LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Five years after moving into Fire Station No. 1, co-located with the district administration center at 3220 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., East Manatee Fire Rescue District has developed a training facility next door.
The facility on the 11-acre campus was planned on a pay-as-you go basis, Chief Byron Teates said Wednesday.
In 2013, the district had roads in the training facility paved, mimicking streets in a neighborhood, and added hydrants and underground gas lines.
This week, firefighters have been training on the Res-Q-Jack, a type of hydraulic jack used to stabilize overturned vehicles, making them safer for anyone trapped inside as well as for rescuers trying to extricate them. The jack can also be used to lift a vehicle, helping with the rescue of anyone who might be trapped underneath.
Recently, firefighters conducted a live exercise on clamping and sheathing ruptured gas lines, using buried gas lines on the property. TECO brought trainers to assist, and fed gas into the buried lines.
"We're trying to develop the best use and set department policy. We have to think about the safety of firefighters, too," Battalion Chief Stacey Bailey said.
"We used to look for dead-end roads where we could train, Bailey said. "Now that we have our own place, we can train, train, train."
Taking part in the training Wednesday were Dave Manning, Joe Grif
fith, Scott Rhodes and Ryan Thompson.
The firefighters set up jacks on two sides of a junk car that had been turned on its side, essentially creating a set of triangles that took the teeter out of the wreck.
Firefighters brainstormed use of the new equipment to make sure they understood not only its use, but potential problems.
"Now that we have this tool, we'll be held to a higher standard. We need to learn to use it properly," Manning said.
East Manatee firefighters can now train in the district, rather than having to drive to distant districts such as North River or Cedar Hammock, Teates said.
In the past, those units training outside the district were not available to respond to East Manatee emergencies because of the driving distances.
Now, training can be interrupted if need be, and firefighters can respond to life-threatening situations, Teates said.
The improvements needed to open the training facility cost about $200,000.
"We haven't borrowed a nickel in 11 years," Teates said of the district, which is funded by property taxes and special assessments.
Those taxes and fees have enabled the fire district to add fire stations and keep pace with rapid growth in the 100-square-mile district which includes Lakewood Ranch east to County Road 675, north to the Manatee River, and south to the Sarasota County line.
The district was created in 1980 as the Braden River Fire District.
The new facility also allows firefighters to train on hose deployment, pulling water from hydrants or a retention pond.
Planned for the future are a fire tower and mock-up of a house.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.