Location: Pittsburgh Police & Fire Training Center in Highland Park

Featured guests: Captain Brian Krull, Battalion Chief Michael Riley and Captain Gary Miller

3 things that surprised me:

1. New recruits to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire undergo 33 weeks of training. The first eight weeks are EMT training — recruits practice with plastic models and actors to hone their medical skills — before moving to the ladders and hoses.

2. There are multiple maze rooms where aspiring firefighters train. The battalion chief explained how the recruits suit up in 70 pounds of gear before crawling around the room in pitch darkness as smoke is piped in and loud noises are played. Each room is customizable with trap doors and moveable walls so the recruits will never explore the same room twice.

3. When I think of firefighters I generally think of fighting fires, but recruits train to do so much more. On the day we visited, Captain Gary explained how the recruits were learning how to respond to various situations involving hazardous materials. They had simulated a tanker crash and the recruits were spraying a flame-retardant foam at the spill site. In another corner of the lot, they were trying to contain a stream of smoke spilling out of a pipe.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: I asked Captain Gary if they ever set fires in the tower for training purposes and he explained that they only use fake smoke in Highland Park. They do have a larger facility out of town where they can set actual fires so that recruits can gain experience with real flames.

Additional info: You can learn more about the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire and apply to the academy on the website.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our tour of ALCOSAN to see where all of Pittsburgh’s sewage goes and how it gets treated.

Boaz is the host of NEXTpittsburgh's Yinzer Backstage Pass video series. He is also an author, filmmaker, advertising copywriter, teacher, experiential storyteller, talk show host, gardener, kazoo museum curator and so much more.