New $1.9M fire-training tower in South City has red-hot design

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The new fire-training tower in South San Francisco has taken on a smokin’ design trend seen up and down the Peninsula: mixed-use development.

The “state-of-the-art,” $1.9 million facility, which opens officially at a dedication ceremony Saturday at 11:30 a.m., is a steel structure consisting of several components, including a six-story high-rise, a two-story “mixed-use” component mimicking a combination of residential space over commercial space and a single-story residential space, said Tom Azzopardi, the training chief for the city’s fire department.

“It’s easily modifiable. If you wanted to add a wing or add a story, it’s like an Erector Set,” Azzopardi said. “We tried to take into consideration the challenges we face in our city.”

The previous tower was essentially a four-story concrete stairwell, Azzopardi said.

Councilman Karyl Matsumoto said the ability to change would suit South San Francisco in its efforts to train firefighters.

“If you think about it at one time, we’ve gone from big farm cattle to steel and now biotechnology. Now we have to go up [in scale], and I’m sure that presents different challenges for the Fire Department,” Matsumoto said.

South San Francisco firefighters train daily, and the purpose of the facility will be to give them that “live fire” training they might not otherwise receive in their initial training as firefighters and on the job, Azzopardi said.

The fire, fueled by four 1,000-gallon propane tanks, will be used in seven different settings, such as a bedroom or living room.

Given clean-air restrictions in the Bay Area, the facility uses propane as the source of the fire. Fire departments in other areas can use straw, hay or wood palettes as fuel, Azzopardi said.

While a propane fire acts differently than fires started by combustible materials, an advantage is that officials can control it and have repeated sessions, he said.

“It’s the techniques we’re trying to teach everybody. You still have to pull hoses; you still have to have good spray patterns,” Azzopardi said.

The repeated sessions could come in handy as South San Francisco looks to rent the facility to other departments in the area at a fee. “If you build it, they will come,” Azzopardi said of the structure.

The city will also generate revenue by renting the top of the tower to cellphone vendors.

“It gives the city, via its fire department, a state-of-the-art facility,” Vice Mayor Richard Garbarino said, noting that other fire departments in the Bay Area will be able to come to South San Francisco for such training.

dsmith@examiner.com

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