Before the Demo: Vacant Watt Building Fuels Phoenix Firefighter Training

Days before it demolished an old retail building to make way for View 32 – the North 32nd Street Corridor’s first new urban apartment project in decades – Watt Communities of Arizona turned the space over to Phoenix firefighters for a rare opportunity to kick, drag and drill through interiors as part of real-time emergency exercises.


“Firefighters don’t typically get to conduct training in actual buildings, so this was unique,” said Steve Pritulsky, President and CEO of Watt Communities of Arizona. “We were thrilled to offer up our property, and we want to spread the word to other building owners. This is a simple way to make a tremendous contribution to our firefighters.”


Located just north of the northeast corner of 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard in North Phoenix, the vacant building was constructed in the mid 1980s as an office/retail center. It was most recently occupied by six retail tenants who gradually vacated the property in preparation for its demolition and the construction of View 32, a 135-unit upscale, for-rent urban apartment complex.


“This building was perfect, because while it was empty, all of the interiors and infrastructure were still in place – doors, walls, wiring and ventilation,” said Phoenix Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Huff. “It gave us a realistic setting with an important benefit: we could break down walls, conduct a roof attack that coordinated our Engines and Ladder companies, and complete other exercises that firefighters have to execute regularly on actual emergency calls.”


According to Huff, Watt’s donation of this single building allowed the Department to conduct real-time training for approximately 120 recruits and 50 active firefighters. In addition to learning about different aspects of building construction, these groups completed exercises such as “roof attacks,” in which they enter a building by cutting holes in the roof, and the Tarver drill, which teaches survival and extrication skills for firefighters lost in a fire.


The Tarver drill was named after Bret Tarver, a Phoenix firefighter who died in 2001 at the age of 41, when he was lost in a fire at shopping center at 35th Street and McDowell Road.


“We learned a lot from that tragedy and have implemented training around it that we now provide to every person that comes through our program,” said Huff. “This building allowed us to conduct the Tarver drill and many others in real space. It takes the skills we teach at our academy – which is made of concrete construction – and elevates them to a new, potentially lifesaving level.”


The Department also used the 32nd Street building exercises as an opportunity to shoot a training video, which it is in the process of completing now. According to Huff, the Department has had 10 or less opportunities like this in the last two to three years, but they are always seeking more. “It is a constant need that we don’t get fulfilled often enough,” he said.


Watt is completing demolition on the vacated 32nd Street building now, in preparation for a groundbreaking on View 32 later this year. The complex is Watt’s second urban infill residential project within the City of Phoenix’s North 32nd Street revitalization corridor, and part of more than $73 million in Watt residential developments being built in submarkets including Tempe, the Camelback Corridor, North Central and Downtown Phoenix.

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