Polk County Fire Rescue’s Best Training Grounds

Butterville sounds like any other place. You’ll hear about a quiet house front, a two story home and a furnished apartment. The difference, however, is this particular place will frequently go into a state of emergency for days on end. Fires will begin to rage, buildings can be on the verge of collapse and emergency personnel constantly work to save those that are trapped.

If you think Butterville sounds less than inviting, you don’t need to worry about ever passing through because it is not a place like any other; it is an indoor training facility used to prepare Polk County Fire Rescue personnel to handle real emergencies.

Named after Battalion Chief Steve Buttermore, PCFR’s Training Chief, the facility was created after PCFR vacated their previous location at Bartow Airport in favor of the newly acquired county procurement warehouse in 2014. While the PCFR staff was cleaning up the warehouse, Buttermore noticed that some of the pallet racks seemed to resemble a house, which inspired him to create a facility that could resemble complete buildings, as well as rooms that would fully immerse firefighters in an emergency situation.

The facility was a perfect solution to one of PCFR’s biggest issues when scheduling training drills–the Florida weather. Because drills were usually conducted outside so PCFR was often at the mercy of the weather, having to delay or even cancel and reschedule training days because of heavy rain or lightning. Those days are now over since Butterville is an indoor facility. Now drills are conducted no matter the weather.

Butterville can also be used for urban search and rescue training. One of the structures at the facility is equipped to simulate a collapsed building the firefighters have to deal with to save those inside. The prop simulates wall, roof, window and door collapse.

Since its inception, many new features have been added to the facility. Plywood has been utilized to construct the more advanced structures like the apartment or collapsible wall front, and props such as a power line, fire hydrants and trucks have been brought in. The facility also now utilizes smoke machines to simulate smoke conditions anywhere from one room to the entire facility. Every new feature added to Butterville helps to make the drills as realistic as possible for those going through the training.

“Our facility is able to recreate many scenarios that actually happen in the field, which helps prepare our emergency personnel to avoid making mistakes in a real life or death situation,” Buttermore said. “We put our firefighters, EMTs and paramedics through simulations together to complete the realistic feel of the emergency.”

In real emergencies, firefighters would take residents in need of help from the burning building directly to the waiting paramedics who would immediately begin to work on them, which is exactly what they are able to do during the drills at this facility.

When asked more about the about the facility, Buttermore said, “Most of our drills are based on actual near-misses or line of duty deaths in fire service. The main goal of the training at the facility is to focus on those types of scenarios to prevent them in the future by creating muscle memory in our personnel. We run drills over and over so by the time they are in the field, everything is second nature to them, allowing them to handle situations quickly and effectively.”

Some of the drills that can be performed in this facility are firefighter down drills (May-Day), firefighter bailouts, Denver Drills, Nance Drills, Pittsburgh Drills and VEIS Drills. They are also able to conduct residential or large area searches, work with ladders and practice working around any possible ventilation problems they could run into.

“Steve has been tirelessly dedicated to this project,” said Polk County Fire Rescue Chief David Cash. “Under his leadership PCFR has constructed a great training facility that will help our men and women, along with our municipal partners, to continually make Polk County a safe place for our residents and visitors.”

Because PCFR employs about 600 firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, the simple construction of the facility is also useful in that it allows for simulations to be reset quickly. This allow them to maximize the number of repetitions and groups that can rotate through the scenario on training days. The structures can also be easily changed to create a different experience every time a group goes through the course.

“I’m very proud of the men and women who’ve helped construct this facility,” said Buttermore. “Our goal was to create a truly immersive experience to help everyone improve their work in the field. I think we’ve done that. Whether someone has been with us for 25 years or it’s their first week, every single one of us can improve ourselves in this facility.”

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