Inside Ann Arbor Fire Department’s training on South U

A firefighter rolls a hose as part of AAFD training on Sept. 30, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – On a chilly Wednesday morning, members of the Ann Arbor Fire Department occupied a block on South University for the second day during intensive simulation training.

The vacant buildings between Church St. and E. University Ave. will be demolished soon, so they provide a unique opportunity for the fire department to practice, according to fire chief Mike Kennedy.

“It’s very unusual for us to have these commercial buildings and so we really appreciate Hughes Properties for allowing us access,” said Kennedy.

“We’ve got access to businesses, restaurants, a bank, a first floor, second floor and a basement. Some of these buildings go back 100 years so it’s really an opportunity that is very, very rare for us. As we’re progressing through the month of October, we’re able to get more destructive with some of the training that we do.”

View from inside an AAFD kitchen fire simulation on S. University on Sept. 30, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

Part of Wednesday’s training was a simulated first floor kitchen fire. The AAFD allowed A4 to enter the building while live trainings were taking place in a room filled with theater smoke.

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“Normally, you can’t see the hand in front of your face -- that’s how bad the smoke gets,” said assistant training officer Brian Schotthoefer.

AAFD assistant training officer Brian Schotthoefer guides firefighters through a smoke-filled room during a fire simulation training on Sept. 30, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

The trainees relied on flashlights to navigate the space with a charged hose, some crawling while carrying the heavy equipment. Later in the day, the department planned to simulate a second floor apartment fire.

“There’s a lot of furniture still in these buildings so it’s very realistic,” he said. “It’s really some great training that is very rare for us to get.”

Kennedy said the current plan is to train during weekdays on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The training is weather dependent so some training days may be rescheduled.

Firefighters wear full gear during training on South University on Sept. 30, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

Traffic won’t be interrupted but some sidewalks near the buildings will be closed due to hoselines. Passersby are welcome to watch the simulations.

“People are more than welcome to be on the north side of the road and to watch what we’re doing,” said Kennedy. “It’s an opportunity for the public to see where some of their tax dollars are going.”

About the Authors:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.