‘Invaluable’: Columbia firefighters train on to-be-demolished Midlands Tech building

Chris Trainor
·3 min read

The wrecking ball will soon come for the old engineering laboratory building at Midlands Technical College’s Beltline campus in Columbia, making way for a new, $30 million science and workforce development facility.

But before the old building is torn down, the Columbia Fire Department has been able to use it this week with some specialized training.

Midlands Tech is set to construct the Center for QuickJobs and Workforce Development Education Building, a four-story, 58,000-square-foot facility, which will focus on science, math, computer technology, and business. Two outdated buildings will ultimately be demolished in association with the project, one of which is the current engineering laboratory building. Demolition work is set to begin on that as soon as Monday.

But this week the engineering building has been crawling with dozens of Columbia firefighters, who have been using it for a number of training exercises. That includes using artificial smoke machines to mimic ultra-smoky environments inside the facility to help with search-and-rescue training, actually turning on fire hoses in the facility to get a true feeling of the water pressure that would come during an actual fire, and sawing into the building’s roof to create the type of ventilation holes that would be necessary in a real blaze.

“During the course of our project work here at the college, with putting up new buildings and tearing down old buildings, (the fire department) got wind of our plan to demolish (the engineering) building, and they asked us if there was an opportunity,” Midlands Tech director of operations Teresa Cook said. “So we worked that out with them. ... It’s really cool. It’s a great opportunity for us and them. And the students get to see how we partner with the community to help develop the fire force.”

Assistant Chief Christopher Kip has been with the Columbia Fire Department for 22 years. He said the department has had plenty of opportunities to use abandoned residential homes for fire training. But the chance to use a commercial-style building, particularly one associated with a college, is much more rare.

“This is invaluable practice for our members,” Kip said. “Midlands Tech was kind enough to let us actually go in there and flow water, which is great because we are actually able to use the structure to not only stretch hose lines, but stretch them, get them in place and flow water. ... When we are able to use a building that is being demolished, and go into unfamiliar floor plans and arrangements, that simulates our teams actually going into an unknown building.”

Longtime Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins was at the college Thursday, observing as his crews worked in the old engineering facility.

“This is the type of training we actually need to make our job more efficient,” Jenkins told The State. “We appreciate the opportunity to do these exercises on this building. ... Residential structures, those are pretty routine. But when you get a structure like this, a commercial building with a thick roof, it really puts our guys to task. It’s a big deal to practice on a structure like this.”

The new Center for QuickJobs and Workforce Development Education Building at Midlands Tech will take about two years to construct, according to Cook. The old engineering building was built in the 1960s.