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February 11, 2011

Class in session

Students conquer flames and fear in Burn Building

By Valder Belgrave

It’s the classroom that’s engulfed in flames every time it’s used, but never burns down. It’s a litmus test for aspiring fire fighters that defines whether they have the aptitude and courage required to embark upon a career in the fire service. It’s the Burn Building at JIBC’s Maple Ridge campus, which students become very familiar with during in the JIBC Career Firefighter Pre-employment Certificate program.

The certificate program is a difficult 12 weeks of preparation for students interested in pursuing careers at municipal fire departments. “They are all convinced that they want to be firefighters but a few discover, once they’re here, that it’s not for them,” says Dean Cleave, JIBC Program Coordinator and Captain with the Surrey Fire Service.

Firefighters need to be prepared to respond to anything.  Simulation training at the Burn Building helps aspiring fire fighters become members of a special breed – those with the ability to perform complex tasks and handle critical decision-making under life-threatening conditions. Only after these JIBC students master fundamental skills and knowledge in areas such as rescue operations, first aid, emergency vehicle operation, and building construction techniques, and develop a fitness level that allows them to tote those heavy hoses up dizzying heights, are they ready to put their knowledge to the ultimate test in the Burn Building.  

On any given day at the Burn Building, great smoke plumes rise and spread upward from the windows of this imposing, three-storey structure. The concrete building has a few architectural touches, including an shortened two-storey fire escape. On the inside, thick, dripping black ash coats everything and the only light comes from the 400 degree Celsius flames that make the rooms feel like oversized ovens.

Fire kills more people every year than any other force of nature and while this fire is controlled, that doesn't make it any less real for the students. Their natural instinct might be to turn tail and flee the suffocating heat, but armed with their protective gear, self-contained breathing apparatus, fire hose and uncommon courage, the students stand firm. Under the directions of their instructors, the students eventually bring the blaze under control and the building is saved yet again, to burn another day.

Exhilarated, but exhausted, the students emerge from the building and gather together. They remove their yellow helmets and protective equipment to reveal broad smiles of satisfaction at their accomplishment. Some students will have already confronted a previously unknown fear of heights; others, a fear of confined spaces. While some may have been challenged by the physical demands and discipline required to successfully complete the program. Spontaneous shouts and back slapping erupt as these students share in the joy of having successfully battled and defeated the Burn Building - conquering both the flames and their fear.

Tags: burn building, Fire & Safety Division

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Last updated April 5, 2017