Lexington fire training tower demolished

jkegley@herald-leader.comOctober 8, 2012 

The six-story tower that had been a landmark at the Lexington Division of Fire's training center for decades is no more.

On Monday morning, a crew from Lexington-based Superior Demolition began hooking up steel cables and positioning bulldozers by the tower at 1375 Old Frankfort Pike. Within hours, all that was left was a pile of concrete and metal.

Over the years, hundreds of recruits and firefighters used the tower to simulate multistory fires and rescue operations. Trainees ran hoses up flights of stairs, maneuvered ladder trucks to the building's roof and practiced rappelling off the sides.

However, the fire department stopped using the tower in April 2011 because of structural problems caused by the building's age, said Greg Stapleton, battalion chief over the fire department's training bureau. The tower was built in 1969.

"It was starting to deteriorate," he said. "Chips of concrete and blocks were falling off."

Budget shortfalls prevented the city from repairing or rebuilding the tower, officials said. It was unclear when another one will be constructed.

"It's something that we do badly need," Battalion Chief Ed Davis said. "We understand that there are economic problems right now, but we hope in the near future to get it rebuilt."

A new tower with modern features would cost an estimated $920,000, said Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason.

"We've got some plans drawn up that would replace the tower with a little bit taller tower and a little bit more diverse and functional tower," he said.

However, the new tower is among "a number of competing priorities" for money, he said. The city was exploring options to fund it, including issuing bonds or partnering with a private firm, but nothing has been set.

It is unusual for a fire department the size of Lexington's to be without a multistory training tower, Stapleton said.

Since the structure was condemned, firefighters have trained off-site periodically in warehouses and apartment buildings, but those structures are not as versatile, and they present a liability to the property owners, fire officials said.

For example, most off-site buildings cannot be saturated with water without causing structural damage, Davis said.

They also are not as tall. Firefighters engineered a number of high-rise training scenarios using the tower, such as running hoses to battle a multistory fire or lowering an injured person from several stories.

"That's something that we can't simulate in a one- or two-story building," Stapleton said.

Demolition companies began bidding on a contract to demolish the tower in August. The city accepted Superior Demolition's $25,000 bid, according to records provided by the city's Division of Purchasing.

Mason said the city hopes bidding to construct a new tower won't be far off.

"It's something that's missed," he said. "It's something we want to get replaced here very quickly."

Glendover Elementary fifth-grader Bella Nelson is Lexington's 2012 Junior Fire Chief

Bella was selected to represent her school during Fire Prevention Week, which was kicked off by the annual Fire Prevention Parade and celebration in downtown Lexington on Monday night.

Each year, the Lexington Division of Fire selects an elementary school to host a poster contest. Bella's poster, which displayed this year's Fire Prevention Week theme of "Have Two Ways Out," helped her earn the title.

The theme is meant to remind people to have at least two ways out of each room n case one exit is blocked.

As junior fire chief, Bella rode in a horse-drawn carriage during the Fire Prevention Parade.

The rest of her schedule this week includes a tour of Keeneland, a visit with the fire marshal at the University of Kentucky and interviews on noon news shows.

Lexington has named a junior fire chief since the 1950s.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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