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Closed for more than seven years, the Oliver Field Emergency Response Training Center near Mobile is once again open and ready to train industrial firefighters.
Vol 22 Number 5

The newly reopened Oliver Field Emergency Response Training Center located close to Mobile, Alabama is now open for business, said Oliver's director Mike McCreary. What makes this facility different is the training objective they endorse.? Other schools provide large awe inspiring fires for emergency teams to fight.?

"At Oliver Field while we can provide large fires, we instruct how to extinguish fires before they become defensive operations," McCreary said.

"We're training our responders to get out in front of the fire and stop its progress before it gets out of hand," McCreary said. "When a fire gets that big, it's not an offensive operation anymore. You're falling back to a defensive position to keep it from growing larger or going anywhere else.

"As far as filling the sky with flames, that's really not what we are doing here."

Closed since 2000, the 53-acre training field located in Axis, AL, quietly reopened after being acquired in April by Tennessee based American ERT, a company co-owned by McCreary specializing in emergency response training on site at plants and refineries using mobile live-fire and confined space rescue training units.

"For a lot of customers on site training is a saving grace because they don't have the budget to send people off to school," said McCreary. "However, we are limited on the size of fire using trailers and props. On the other hand, we have customers who like to have a place to send maybe a quarter or half of their ERT at one time for a more realistic approach to industrial fire and rescue."

Not that Oliver Field lacks the facilities to do a big burn if necessary. Its four-story industrial mock-up can simulate as many as 30 different fire scenarios, including mishaps involving chemical process, railcar loading, pumps, tanks, vessels, flanges, overhead pipe rack, acetylene cutting torches and electrical transformers

Rather than separate props for every fire scenario, most of Oliver's live-fire exercises are consolidated into one large complex. The practical side of this is the entire complex sits inside a dike that captures 100 percent of runoff to be processed and reused.

Other training field resources include a breathing apparatus training building with moveable walls to create up to nine multi level mazes, special facilities dedicated to confined space and high angle rescue, classroom space complete with Power Point projectors, above ground fuel lines and a four million gallon polyurethane lined waste water holding pond with a three chamber oil separator-returned reuse system.

McCreary has served as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force and the Huntsville and Mobile fire departments. A former instructor at the University of South Alabama, he holds an associates degree in fire service management.

His history as an instructor with the training field goes back to the days when it was owned by the past Greater Mobile Industrial Association, a not-for-profit industrial mutual aid organization. A resident of Knoxville, TN, for the last 10 years, McCreary recently became interested in moving back to his hometown in Mobile.

"The Axis training center came up for purchase," McCreary said. "We discussed it and made our move." The only other fixed training facility operated by American ERT is a marine fire training field at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

One of American ERT's strongest assets is its instructors, McCreary said. The experienced staff of 45, includes firefighters from New York City and Mobile, AL.? "What the FDNY group of instructors bring to the training field is real life experiences of handling three and four rescue calls a day,"? "We feel very fortunate to be associated with this group of professionals," McCreary said.

Also we employ full time industrial emergency responders. These instructors have the unique ability to convey lessons learned based on past industrial incidents they have managed. American ERT is a proponent of standardization as it relates to fire and rescue certifications.

"We have instructors on both NFPA and National Safety Council committees," McCreary said.

We are also interested in obtaining International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) certification for all our instructors, McCreary said.

The training field currently offers all levels of industrial fire training including incident command. American ERT also offers confined space and high angle rescue and hazardous materials response. Companies can either contract directly with American ERT for instructors or rent the training center and provide their own instructors.

Oliver Field can comfortably handle classes of 35 responders a day and has handled classes as big as 70 students, McCreary said. The burning season is year-round using actual fire foam provided by Fire Aid rather than training foam. Fuels used for burning include naptha, diesel and propane. Rental of SCBA and bunker gear is available through Gloves Inc. an Atlanta, GA, company.

American ERT has already set out on an expansion program at Axis. The first step in August will be to separate the combined hazmat and rescue facilities.

"Rescue training is one of the biggest things we do," McCreary said. "We are setting up a separate rescue training field complete with storage tanks and piping. The hazmat field already has a rolled over tanker truck. We are adding a railcar project. It's also going to have a loading dock complete with ISO (International Organization of Standardization) containers."

Shipping containers separate from the industrial fire training complex have been converted into a smokehouse for the benefit of interior structural fire training, he said. An additional classroom will be built adjoining the industrial fire complex for greater convenience.

Rather than having a grand re-opening, Oliver Field is planning an open house for later this year.

"Right now we are open for business," McCreary said.

For more info about Oliver Field, visit or you may contact Mike McCreary directly at (865) 607-3808.


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

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