Related Midwest’s rehabilitation and preservation of Poplar Place, an affordable housing community in Springfield, Illinois, isn’t just bringing updated apartments to residents. The project has also provided the Springfield Fire Department with a rare opportunity to practice life-saving skills and experiment with the latest firefighting technology.
As part of the Poplar’s Place redevelopment, Related Midwest is de-densifying the community—demolishing several structures to create a Great Lawn with 2.5 acres of park land, a community center and a playground while modernizing 100 affordable apartments. But Related didn’t want to merely tear down buildings; The building presented an opportunity for the local fire department to have access to the structures before they were demolished to run a series of fire drills.
According to Fire Chief Jerry Pettit, the partnership offered an incredible chance for 220 members of his squad to practice skills on real-world buildings. It’s extremely uncommon for the fire department to have access to an existing building—much less multiple structures—where they can truly simulate real-world conditions. Normally, the department has to run drills within its training center, which limits the amount of time individuals have to train, as well as the situations that can be simulated.
“The Related team was absolutely fantastic,” Chief Pettit says. “They welcomed us and took an interest in what we were doing. They saw the advantage of having a department be able to train on real-world scenarios;”
Because of the rare access to multiple structures, Jerry and his team created several scenarios, including flooding buildings with smoke to mimic the low visibility of fire emergencies and positioning mannequins so firefighters could practice rescuing humans from burning structures. They empowered newer firefighters to be in charge of running their units during the training—giving them practice in leadership positions.
Additionally, the department tried out firefighting techniques like vertical ventilation, which involves cutting through a roof to quickly find and extinguish the seed of the fire.
“It was a great opportunity to train on some of the unknowns,” Chief Pettit. “Now firefighters will show up to an emergency situation and remember what they learned at Poplar Place.”