Cargo crates get new life at fire training center in Bibb

Eight large, metal crates once used for shipping cargo overseas are being reused at the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department training facility as part of a 4,000-square-foot “burn building.”

Stacked three high, the Conex boxes typically seen on the back of tractor-trailers or on train cars are connected by donated sets of stairs. Walls have been cut out to help form large rooms.

The building is equipped with the flexibility to create scenarios of blazes in buildings ranging in size from large warehouses to small houses.

Since the structure is connected to the department’s existing smoke-training building off Tinker Drive, instructors can simulate smoky environments in addition to actual fire conditions, fire Capt. Randy Moore said.

“It helps (firefighters) build confidence in that smoky scenario,” he said.

Moore said firefighters saw similar but smaller fire-training buildings built from the crates five years ago. At that time, Macon-Bibb fire instructors were taking classes of 20 to 30 fire recruits to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth to practice putting out fires.

The logistics of arranging classes around the training center schedule became challenging at times, he said.

When the building that firefighters used in Forsyth was condemned last year, the need for the department to have its own facility intensified, Moore said.

The department used money from its budget to buy the crates from Unlimited Storage Inc., a company on Old Hawkinsville Road in Bibb County. The company buys Conex boxes from import/export businesses when they’re retired from use. Unlimited Storage then rents and sells the boxes, owner Chris Lyles said.

Chief Marvin Riggins said the department paid about $1,000 for each of the eight containers.

All the welding and construction of the boxes has been done by firefighters, sometimes when they’re off duty.

“I’m so grateful to them,” Riggins said.

The department started using the bottom four Conex boxes for live fire training last year. Instructors hope to expand training to the top floors within the next month, Moore said.

Instructor Phillip Adams said the building is equipped with multiple doors, windows and stairwells for added safety. The doors and windows are secured by magnetic locks instead of latches, another safety feature.

“You don’t want to have a complicated latch to use in the event of an emergency,” he said.

When construction of the building is complete, instructors will be able to light fires in reinforced areas on all three floors, Adams said.

“It’s a very safe way to teach fire control,” he said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.