Baltimore Fire Department will again conduct 'live burn' exercises

More than six years after a cadet died in a botched training exercise in a vacant house, Baltimore firefighters will have a new "live burn" building at their academy to conduct such exercises under safer conditions.

The Baltimore Fire Department, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and a host of city officials broke ground on the new building Thursday, and expect it will be complete before the end of this year. The new live-burn building, inside the city's Fire Training Academy in East Baltimore off Pulaski Highway, will replace a similar building constructed in 1955, officials said.

The city suspended live-burn exercises after the 2007 death of Racheal M. Wilson, a cadet who died after she was sent into a vacant Southwest Baltimore rowhouse set ablaze by fire instructors. About that time, the Fire Department decided the aging building needed replacement and cadets have since trained at a facility in Aberdeen, said Fire Department spokesman Ian Brennan.

In a live-burn exercise, a fire is set in a building and trainees practice various scenarios in which it must be extinguished.

In July, the city approved a $200,000 settlement to the family of Wilson, a 29-year-old mother of two. An independent investigation found that the training exercise in which Wilson was fatally injured violated 50 national safety standards, and several high-ranking Baltimore fire officials lost their jobs over the matter.

Safety policies "were not followed in the Racheal Wilson incident, tragically so," Brennan said. Since then, "there have been changes made across the board."

The 1955 burn building is being torn down, with the new building expected to cost about $1.4 million. About $470,000 of that will come from energy company Exelon, which set aside the money as part of its merger with Constellation Energy in 2011. BGE employees will also use the training facility because they are called upon to shut off gas lines and electric service during fires, officials said.

The replacement of the building is part of a $10 million to $15 million overhaul to the fire training academy expected to take place over several years. The city plans to add space to the academy for more classroom training for firefighters and paramedics, both cadets and current members of the department, as well as those in other city agencies.

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