'You name it and it'll have that'
Warner Robins Fire Chief Ross Moulton and fellow firefighters have big plans for a new $1.2 million fire training center.
“It’s going to be amazing, I’m telling you,” said Moulton, who has been with the fire department for 27 years. He was appointed chief last fall. “It’s one of the best things we’ve done in many, many years.”
But a lot of what firefighters will be able to do and when they’ll be able to do it depends on how and when funding comes in, Moulton said.
Right now, firefighters have about $500,000 allocated from a 2012 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for the project. Another $700,000 has been earmarked for the project in the 2018 SPLOST approved this year by Houston County voters.
If council members decide to use bonds to pay a portion of the project, the entire project could be built at one time. The bonds would be paid off from revenues from the 2018 SPLOST as they come in.
Otherwise, the center would be built in phases as funds became available.
Originally, the plan was to upgrade the existing training tower off Industrial Park Boulevard.
“But that property is not real feasible for what we’re trying to do, and it would cost a lot of money to get it where it would be useable, and it’s only a small lot of only about four acres,” Moulton said.
What’s now planned is a state-of-the-art facility that would be anchored by a five-level fire training tower.
While not to the scale of the Guardians Centers of Georgia in Perry, the fire training center would provide for every aspect of training needed by firefighters, Moulton said. The Guardian Centers provide disaster preparedness and tactical training. Ocmulgee Inc. is now working on a site plan for the Warner Robins center.
Mayor Randy Toms, a former firefighter, and city council members already have given their blessing for the new site of the center. Council has dedicated about 50-acres of city-owned property, of which about 30 acres is usable for development. The remaining 20 acres is protected wetlands.
The property is located off 300 Foy Evans Road, which serves as a narrow entrance to the property that extends back to Sandy Run Creek. The most expensive part of the center is the fire tower, which is expected to cost about $400,000.
“This is the heart of the training center,” Moulton said. “We want to invest in this more than anything else.”
The tower envisioned would include multiple levels in which firefighters can practice firefighting with live burns and multiple ways of rescuing people. A firefighter might have to cut through a roof to fight a fire, or rescue someone, for example. The fire tower would include what is known as pitched-roof training prop.
“This is an area here where firefighters are able to put a piece of plywood and actually make a cut — an actual cut with a chainsaw or a circular saw,” said Kenny Hamm, assistant fire chief over administration.
“And they can get up on the roof, actually get the feel of what that feels like and then we can replicate that over, over and over again without damaging the structure,” Hamm said.
He explained how that would work on an American Fire Training Systems’ model of a fire tower on his computer. The company is one of several that firefighters are talking to about the possibility of building the tower.
Another prop in the tower is a maze in which firefighters train in the dark and in smoke for search and rescue. They do this now in the former Warner Robins police department building on Young Avenue. But the maze in the tower would be moveable and frequently changed.
Multiple live burn rooms are also expected to be props in the fire tower, including a bedroom in which firefighters would battle a live fire.
Another prop allows firefighters to propel down a rope through hole in the structure.
In addition to the tower, also planned for the site is a mock fire station. Rookie firefighters can report to the station and take a fire truck reserved for training to a live fire at the tower.
A pump-test pit is also expected to be built at the facility. Fire departments are required to test the pumps annually to meet specifications for water flow. This is now done at Leisure Lake in Warner Robins and another location in Perry.
Additionally, construction of a warehouse is planned for desperately-needed storage, Moulton said. But integrated into that would be space for Candidate Physical Abilities Test certification, he said. That certification is based on physical agility.
Equipment stored in the warehouse would be temporarily moved out for the testing, and then moved back in again.
“We can also bring other fire departments in there to get their certifications ... and it may be something that the city even makes a little money on,” Moulton said.
Also included on site would be a confined-space training area, as well as an area where firefighters can practice building-collapse rescue.
“So you name it, and it will have that in it,” Moulton said.
With the project in the initial planning stages, no timelime for the center has been developed.
“We don’t have a timeline right now because a lot of it depends on funding,” Moulton said. “We’ll just have to see.”