Dakota County Unveils Car Fire Simulator

December 08, 2017 11:57 AM

Local firefighters now have a new tool on which to train when it comes to putting out dangerous car fires. 

According to the Dakota County Fire Chiefs Association, there are hundreds of car fires each year in Dakota County, and 17 car fires every hour nationwide.


But fire departments in Dakota County now have a new training simulator. It cost $50,000, which was provided as a gift from Flint Hills Resources, the owners of the Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount.

"Practicing putting out car fires has long been a challenge for firefighters because burning real cars is unsafe and harmful to the environment," said Eric Bergum, the assistant fire chief for the Inver Grove Heights Fire Department.

"We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of Flint Hills Resources. This state-of-the-art simulator will allow firefighters across Dakota County to be better prepared to protect the public."

It will be used by every fire department in Dakota County.

"When we heard about the need for a safe and environmentally responsible way for firefighters to practice putting out car fires, we knew just what to do," said Ed Steele, the fire chief at the refinery. "We are proud of our longstanding partnership with our neighboring fire departments, and are excited about what this simulator means for the safety of our community."

Car fires are dangerous for several reasons: There is the risk to people inside the vehicles, as well as to firefighters. And there's a risk to the environment, because cars contain hazardous chemicals. 

Even practicing can be dangerous.

Inver Grove Heights fire chief Judy Thill said the simulator will change the way firefighters train for car fires.

"With this simulator and computerized control panel, the training can actually be stopped and the firefighters can be coached in the correct way," she said.

Training used to consist of collecting old cars and burning them for two straight weeks so firefighters could get repetitions in.  

It was expensive, and the toxic smoke carried health risks. Now, though, it's just a matter of flipping a switch to turn the fire on and off.

"This simulator itself is actually a basis for 47 different fire training props that can be purchased," Thill said. "Firefighters can learn how to train on anything from a dumpster to a Black Hawk helicopter."

Flint Hills hosts free training sessions for law enforcement agencies from across the state at its training facility, grants annual scholarships to local firefighters to attend industrial fire training programs and provides free fire response training to its mutual aid fire departments in Rosemount, Eagan, Inver Grove Heights and Hastings. 

The refinery has 1,300 full-time employees, and operates at a capacity of 339,000 barrels per day. 

This story has been corrected to reflect the simulator is not the first of its kind in Minnesota


Kevin Doran

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