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Firefighters Wrap Week of ‘Training Disneyland’ at Edna Maguire

Hundreds of firefighters from all over Marin participated in a series of training exercises at soon-to-be-demolished elementary school in what organizers called an unprecedented opportunity.

is set to be demolished over the next several weeks in anticipation of an .

But after 240 firefighters from all over Marin County and Petaluma had their way with the abandoned campus over the past six days in a training exercise fire department officials called unprecedented, that demolition might be a bit easier.

“We might not need a demolition crew,” joked Pete Norgaard at the ’s board meeting Wednesday evening.

The firefighters were unleashed on the abandoned school as part of a training exercise that allowed free reign over a tens of thousands of square feet of buildings. The firefighters made their way through a series of drills, from forced entry using crow bars and circular saws through the campus’ some 200 doors to navigating smoked-out rooms with no visibility to locate a downed firefighter and breaking through a plaster wall to do so.

“This is like a training Disneyland for firefighters – I could cut into these roofs all day long,” said firefighter Adam Vollmer, who ran a training session that involved using chainsaws to create ventilation and “smoke indicator holes” in the school’s thick wood roof so they could read the changing fire conditions from the hypothetical fire below.

The training exercise originated when Tim Ryan, the Mill Valley School District’s director of maintenance and operations, approached Battalion Chief Mike St. John nearly two years ago about the idea, noting the rare opportunity to have a large, safe set of buildings for firefighters to train on a range of drills.

St. John jumped at the chance and looped in the Marin County Fire Department, whose training division agreed to organize the effort. Nearly every agency in Marin joined the exercise.

“This is the first time something like this has ever happened and I don’t expect it to happen again,” said St. John. “We all have props for things like doors and roofs but nothing this big and this complicated. And everyone has been incredibly generous in allowing us to work here.”

And they’re not done yet.

On June 26 and 28, firefighters will engage in a controlled burn in the school’s front office. St. John said the burns will meet National Fire Protection Administration requirements for live fire training by only burning hay and pallets and not any structural components of the building itself.

“It will give our members the opportunity to witness fire behavior in a controlled environment,” St. John said. “This has been just great. There’s no way that Mill Valley or any other agency could do this on our own.”

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