New fire structure at COS will allow for more hands-on learning

Mike Meyer
COS' existing fire tower is located on campus though it is owned by the City of Weed. The new tower, to be erected in a nearby clearing, will be owned by the college. In the fire tower, students wearing full gear experience the conditions of the job while practicing fire-fighting skills learned in the classroom.

Construction on a new tower that gives firefighting students the chance to train in realistic conditions is set to begin this month at College of the Siskiyous.

The COS Board of Trustees approved a bid from Shasta Services Inc. doing business as Timberworks last Wednesday, May 26, for the fire tower project.

Timberworks is a Mount Shasta company. Its winning bid of $831,091 came in lower that four others received by the college.

The board's approval of Timberworks was cemented in place on June 4 when the formal notice of award was issued, according to Melissa Freilich, an architect with the firm hired to manage the project – Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto & Associates, Inc.

The built-in delay between board approval and the notice of award allowed the decision to be contested, a step that was actually taken by one of the fire tower bidders on the morning after the board meeting. Trent Construction protested the vote on the grounds that Timberworks was unqualified for the project.

A COS fire academy student practices rappelling down the old fire tower.

“Trent Construction had the third lowest bid,” Freilich said. “The protest was an allegation that both Timberworks and J.B. Steel (second lowest bidder) were not qualified because they didn't hold the required erector qualifications as outlined in the specifications.

“However, we did our homework, and Timberworks and J.B. Steel are both qualified contractors and have been verified as certified erectors by Fire Facilities, the manufacturer of the fire tower,” Freilich reported by phone last week. Trent Construction did not respond to an inquiry.

Out of the classroom and into the real world

The purpose of a fire tower is to allow men and women training for a career in firefighting to experience the difficult conditions of the job.

“A fire tower gets cadets out of the classroom and into a safe and controlled work environment,” said Michael Wilson, COS Fire Technology program coordinator and instructor.

Specifically, in a fire tower students experience the strain of working in "a confined space and wearing a breathing apparatus, while putting out a fire," Wilson said.

The new structure will expose students to more realistic fire conditions than were possible in the old tower. “They'll experience fire's actual behavior when class A material is burning – wood, brush, paper”, as opposed to fire fueled by propane, Wilson said. The existing structure is outfitted with propane only.

The new tower will be located in a clearing near the existing tower, which is owned by the City of Weed. The older tower will continue to be used in the training of other emergency personnel, Freilich said.

COS staff worked on getting the project to the construction phase during past months. This entailed complying with the audit requirements provided by California's Division of the State Architect.

Michael Wilson, COS Fire Technology program coordinator and instructor.

‘Strong Workforce’ covers project cost

The final cost for the project rose from $600,000  approved by the board last September to $1,392,546.

The project is funded by a grant from the California Community College Strong Workforce program.

"Strong Workforce dollars will completely cover the cost of this project – it is not district funded," Mark Klever said during the COS trustee meeting. Klever is COS Dean of Career and Technical Education, and administrator for the Strong Workforce program, which exists to "enhance and build the workforce in California," he said via Zoom on Thursday.

The existing tower was built 18 years ago and is now considered beyond life expectancy, according to a COS board meeting agenda report in December 2020. The report stated that the tower is not DSA-compliant.

Also, besides preparing fire cadets, the report built the case that the tower would be a financial improvement for the college. For one thing, it will belong to COS, and so the college would no longer be obliged to pay the city $10,500, per fire academy.

In addition, it was also reported that COS pays all costs for maintaining the old tower, which in recent years amounted to more than $80,000 in repairs.

Timberworks, a home-town contractor was hired

Following the board's vote to approve the contract with Timberworks, COS manager of maintenance and operations Veronica Rivera told trustees, "I like that a home-town contractor is working on the project.

“With COS being in their own backyard, mobilization is going to be much easier (for Timberworks) than for someone from out of the area,” Rivera said, addressing the college staff's hope the project can be finished before winter.

Timberworks will do site preparation before the tower unit arrives, which is scheduled for Sept. 23. The metal tower is delivered in sections, which are erected by the contractor. It is hoped the project can be completed by late December.

COS graduated 22 students in the 2020-2021 fire academy class. It was the college's 42nd fire academy.