Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Empty Cottonwood Mall gives firefighter train

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Thursday, June 28, 2007

MAT-SU—Firefighters will be sawing through walls and cutting through the roof of the empty Cottonwood Creek Mall this weekend as part of a regional firefighters training event.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Rich Boothby, Borough fire code official. "In a training environment you can set up a door and break it down, but in this building there's 15 different kinds of doors we can work on." Boothby and Central Fire Chief Michael Keenan have been working on acquiring the training opportunity since spring.

"Where do you get a tilt up concrete wall to practice on, it's awesome," Boothby added. "I can't count how many sheetrock walls in there we can breach through. In a training facility you usually get a two-story open structure. This one has rooms, stairs, hidden spaces. The complexity of the building adds a real-life training quality."

Target Corporation owns the property and is allowing the drill. The company is building a new store on the property at the corner of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and the George Parks Highway.

The regional training is open to all Borough fire departments. Chugiak and Anchorage Fire Departments are also invited from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

The hands-on training will include working with new types of saws: a big circular saw with 12- 14-inch blades and a chainsaw type that cuts through wood or metal.

The practice will cover four core areas:

  • forcing entry on locked doors and breaching walls
  • advanced hose lines, stretching hoselines into large building, y-ing them off, using master streams, large volumes of water, hooking to stand pipe systems.
  • search and rescue in a large commercial building
  • roof operations will include trench cuts in the roof, skylights and roof scuttles used as ventilation holes

    "As firefighters we're expected to do certain things but we don't get to train in the actual buildings we'd be called upon to save," Boothby said. Drills will test firefighters' skills. A hypothetical scenario of 10 people trapped behind a wall will give firefighters practice at breaching through sheetrock. Reporters can see firefighters at work. Call ahead of time. Contact Rich Boothby, fire code official, at 373-8832 or Central Fire Chief Michael Keenan at 373-8808.
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