Simulator the latest tool in the fight against fire

MANATEE -- When the Colony Cove North Association disbanded, members began looking for charitable organizations that could make good use of the contents of its treasury.

Among those receiving gifts were Kirby Stewart American Legion Post, the American Red Cross and the North River Fire District, which has a firehouse at the front gate of the sprawling manufactured home community in Ellenton.

What North River had been wanting, but lacked the funding to get, was a computerized fire simulation program.

With Colony Cove North’s help, firefighters have obtained the program, which will help them prepare for emergencies in ways previously impossible.

Essentially, firefighters take photos inside and outside of any building or area, such as an assisted living facility, highrise building, restaurant, manufacturing facility or port, which could represent a firefighting challenge or hazardous materials threat, said Michael D. Williamson, battalion chief for North River.

Once the photos are uploaded, the computer program supplies the smoke and flames, allowing firefighters to realistically study how an emergency might unfold.

Firefighters can develop strategies on how to combat the emergency. They can also see threats presented to fire responders, such as a ceiling that might collapse during a fire.

Depending on firefighter actions, the simulated fire can either be brought under control or get much worse.

“We tried a year ago to get this program, but we didn’t have the money,” Williamson said.

Already, North River has surveyed and photographed about 20 buildings.

North River got its initial exposure to the program through East Manatee Fire Rescue, which already had the program at Lakewood Ranch.

Colony Cove resident Mary Weinman did much of the legwork on finding and buying the program for North River.

It was a labor of love for her, as she was former volunteer with the Erie County, N.Y., fire department and her husband worked for many years as a fire chief.

Thursday, members of North River Fire District invited Jim Tracy, former president of the Colony Cove North Association, and Weinman to the fire district training facility at 823 49th St. E. for a demonstration.

What they saw was a projected image of a well-known local restaurant with frightening-looking smoke and fire boiling out of the windows and roof. The program allows offers a 360-degree view of how the fire might look.

Other Manatee County fire departments can take advantage of the new training device at North River.

It was an easy decision to make a gift to North River, Tracy said.

“We are a senior park and they make a lot of calls here,” Tracy said. “We wanted to do something for those who do something for us.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021. Tweet: @jajones1.