One last class: UNK’s Otto Olsen serves as firefighter’s training ground before demolition


KEARNEY — Members of the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department trained at the Otto Olsen building on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus Thursday night for their monthly training.

More than 35 firefighters trained in elevator rescue, residential search, trench cuts in the roof for ventilation and practiced entering a building through windows to search for victims. No practice fires were set and water wasn’t used during the training.

Otto Olsen training

Firefighters climbed one of the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department’s two ladder trucks to get onto the roof of Otto Olsen Thursday night during their montly training.

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Otto Olsen is scheduled to be torn down this summer. The former vocational and industrial arts building opened in 1955 and was named after Otto C. Olsen in 1961.

A graduate of the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney, Olsen joined the school’s staff in 1919 and retired in 1957. He was chairman of the Vocational Arts Division and Industrial Arts Department and a pioneer in the field of driver education.

Otto Olsen training

A Kearney Volunteer Firefighter works to cut a hole in the roof of Otto Olsen as part of their training Thursday night on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. Holes are sometimes cut in roofs to ventilate heat and smoke from inside a structure.

Most recently, the Otto Olsen building housed UNK’s Industrial Distribution and Cyber Systems departments, as well as the glassblowing lab and Child Development Center. After spending more than two decades on the state’s capital construction replacement list, it was replaced by the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center that opened in fall 2019, an addition to the Fine Arts Building and Discovery Hall, a state-of-the-art STEM facility that opened in fall 2020.

Future plans for the Otto Olsen space haven’t been finalized, but the area will include additional parking on the south side and green space to the north.

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