Ann Arbor Fire Department hosts joint trainings with regional firefighters

An Ann Arbor Fire Department truck is parked outside the Forest Avenue Parking Structure, where wet drills are taking place on June 3, 2021. In the distance, more trainings are taking place at University Towers. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – The Ann Arbor Fire Department is hosting firefighters from cities across Southeast Michigan and Toledo this week to train in high-rise buildings in the South University area.

The department brought in District Chief David McGrail with the Denver Fire Department to run the trainings.

A published author, McGrail is one of the nation’s foremost experts in high-rise firefighting and standpipe-equipped buildings. Though types of standpipes vary, they allow firefighters to combat blazes in structures that are several stories tall without having to run hoses up every floor.

AAFD had planned on starting the trainings last year, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed them back. The project has been years in the making, said AAFD Fire Chief Mike Kennedy.

Firefighters receive instructions on one of the upper levels of the Forest Avenue Parking Structure in Ann Arbor on June 3, 2021 during a joint training session. (Meredith Bruckner)

“We actually started this about three years ago,” said Kennedy. “For a long time, we know we’ve needed to update our high-rise firefighting procedures and that just goes with the explosion of the vertical growth of the downtown core of Ann Arbor and all these additional high-rise buildings with standpipes.

“We’ve jumped ahead a quarter century with doing this. We’ve gotten really great support from the mayor, city council and city administration -- this is a big investment.”

Kennedy said firefighters from Ann Arbor Township, Chelsea, Pittsfield Township, Superior Township, Dearborn, Detroit and Toledo are participating in the four-day training.

In the afternoons, passersby can see trucks and firefighters in gear at University Towers and inside the Forest Avenue Parking Garage as they carry out dry and wet evolutions.

Firefighters practice using a live hose in the Forest Avenue Parking Structure during an apartment fire simulation on June 3, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

In the parking garage, the teams simulated an apartment fire and practiced running hose up several flights of stairs and attaching it to the standpipe. Since the standpipe in the parking structure is dry, AAFD had to supply water pressure to the standpipe from one of its engines in order to reach the sixth floor.

Lieutenant Jeff Larson of the Denver Fire Department accompanied McGrail and was running the wet evolutions in the parking garage on Thursday afternoon.

Fire hoses ready to be connected for an apartment fire simulation in the Forest Avenue Parking Structure on June 3, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

He commended AAFD for taking the steps to focus on high-rise firefighting as the city landscape evolves.

“Chief McGrail trains other departments throughout the country and I was lucky enough to come along on this one to help train the Ann Arbor Fire Department which is going through a transition,” said Larson. “It’s good they realized they needed a fundamental change within their department.”