A Short History of the Olive Drive Fire Training Facility

In the early days of organized firefighting in Kern County, the needs for training were relatively simple.  KCFD training was done at the old adobe headquarters station on Golden State Avenue. The Bakersfield Fire Department dealt exclusively with fires in their infancy, while The Kern County Fire Department started as a sub-division of the State Division of Forestry and was responsible for the watershed areas of Kern County.  Since each department was years away from becoming all-hazard agencies, there was not a need for advanced training.

As the twentieth century progressed, each department was becoming more and more an all-hazard department and the need for a higher quality of training became more apparent.  KCFD started running their academies at Minter Field, sight of old Station 34.  The hose tower doubled as the drill tower and is presently being used as the announcer’s stand during air shows.  The station itself, built in 1941, is currently the headquarters of the Minter Field Air Museum.  After Minter Field, the classroom portions of academies were held at Bakersfield College’s Weill Institute.  Drill portions were held at various places, including the early drill grounds of Olive Drive, prior to the construction of classrooms.  When it came to on-the-job training, each battalion had a spot to call their own, but a need was developing for an advanced, centralized training facility.

The earliest form of the Olive Drive Fire Training Facility started in the fall of 1970.  Kern County Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Lechtrek formed a committee for the purpose of drafting a plan for a new training center and submitting it to County Administration for the 1971-72 budget.  The committee consisted of himself, Division Chief Bruce Bennett, Division Chief Lyall Washman, Training Officer Arthur Craig, and Business Manager Jim Diffenbaugh.

The completion of the drill ground was met with much excitement, in particular the burn building and the confined space area.  Having a reusable burn building was an immeasurable asset for each department, drastically reducing the amount of time it took to prep and clean a traditional house that would be used for a house burn drill.  The confined space area, with its series of underground tunnels, was a great asset for each department’s Urban Search and Rescue teams.

What we today know as the Olive Drive Fire Training Facility came about in 1984, when BFD Fire Chief Dennis Needham and KCFD Fire Chief Carl Williams presided over the opening of the complete ODFTF.  Architect Chris Addington and contractor Gen-Par Construction were hired to add two classroom buildings and an office building to the preexisting drill grounds.  The addition of these buildings ensured that all future BFD, KCFD and BC FFI Academies could be held in one centralized location, eliminating the need for wasted travel time and expenses.  Many additions have been made throughout the years, including multiple seatrains to store training equipment, hazardous materials training props, ventilation training props, forcible entry training props, apparatus bays, and a weight room.  Each addition has been a valuable asset to not only to each department, but for the entire south San Joaquin region.

After a hiring freeze throughout the 1990s, KCFD ran its first recruit academy in seven years in 1997.  This academy would be the first of 21 academies ran since then, including the most recent class which graduated in February, 2012.  Seven of these academies were joint academies ran with BFD, plus one ran in conjunction with the Bakersfield College FFI Academy.  Also during this time, Bakersfield College has run their annual Firefighter I Academy at Olive Drive, with many of its graduates going on to work for the Bakersfield or Kern County Fire Departments.  Not only are the newest members of each department trained at ODFTF, but the classroom modules are often the sight of scenario-based tests for promotional examinations.  Using computer simulation, proctors are able to simulate a variety of incidents based on real life scenarios.

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