From left, Brig. Gen. Steve Osborn, Johnston Mayor Paula Dierenfeld, Bureau Chief John Kraemer, State Fire Marshal Dan Wood, IDPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens and Johnston-Grimes Fire Chief Jim Clark

The Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau has a new home at the Iowa National Guard’s Camp Dodge in Johnston. 

Fire department officials from across the metro and the state of Iowa gathered this morning to celebrate the official opening of the new training center, which is located in the former fire station on the Iowa Guard base. 

More than 12,000 firefighters per year from across the state will now travel to Johnston for training. Among officials present at the event were Stephan Bayens, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal Dan Wood, and Brig. Gen. Steve Osborn, the deputy adjutant general. 

The facility replaces an aging building on the Iowa State University campus in Ames that opened in 1965. The Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau’s history dates back to 1923, when a group of firefighters approached officials at then Iowa State College, seeking educational assistance to improve their firefighting and fire prevention skills. 

The bureau had been located in a building on the northeast side of the ISU campus, with a small outdoor training area adjacent to it. “Iowa State was a wonderful place to be,” said Bureau Chief John Kraemer. “But truthfully, we’ve outgrown [the space].” 

The new facility was made possible through an agreement between the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which operates the training bureau, and the Iowa National Guard. In addition to providing the building, the Iowa Guard is also making its expansive outdoor fire training grounds and facilities available to the bureau. The Johnston-Grimes Fire Department began providing fire service to Camp Dodge last year, which made the fire station building available for another use.   

The training bureau moved into the facility in mid-July. With its layout as a firehouse, only minor modifications were needed to equip it as a training center, Kraemer said. 

The bureau, which is state-funded, provides some training support to metro fire departments that operate their own training academies, with its primary training services to smaller cities’ and volunteer fire departments, Kraemer said. The bureau has more than 120 field trainers who work with fire departments across the state. 

“Our goal is to keep [training] costs down as much as possible for the fire departments,” he said. 

On display outside the training center were a couple of mobile training units that the bureau has acquired within the past year. One mock-up, a simulated roof frame, is used to teach firefighters about house construction and venting techniques. Down the road from the center on the base is the Guard’s “container city,” which offers mock-ups of various types of rooms that firefighters will use for training. 

Although there is no training with live flames at the outdoor facilities, one of Kraemer’s goals is to provide that capability in the future. 

Having the training center located within the Des Moines metro will be valuable to all departments within Greater Des Moines, said Jim Clark, chief of the Johnston-Grimes Fire Department. The next horizon of training, Clark said, will be for the bureau to develop more comprehensive leadership training beyond the basic leadership courses that are available. 

“COVID may be a blessing in disguise, because videoconferencing has opened up new opportunities for training,” Clark said. Additionally, he encouraged Kraemer to borrow another important lesson from the military in their leadership development — mentoring. 

“I accept your challenge, and I agree wholeheartedly,” Kraemer said. 

Johnston Mayor Paula Dierenfeld expressed her gratitude for the firefighters willing to train to prepare for emergencies. She cited the fact that Johnston has experienced three major damaging storms in just the past 10 weeks. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds and the adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Corell, had been scheduled to speak at the event, but both were surveying damage from Monday’s derecho event.