Construction begins on training center


Underneath gray skies on a bare swatch of land surrounded by corn, a hint of the future Franklin County Public Safety Training Center took shape Friday morning.

More than 50 people showed up - many in uniform - for the official groundbreaking for the training center. Two firetrucks rounded out the scene.

On the land, which is behind the Franklin County Career and Technology Center and was donated by area schools, a two-story "burn building" will be built of reinforced concrete, said Jim Picking, project manager. Plans also call for a 50- to 60-foot tower for simulating high-level rescue operations, classrooms, a site to practice vehicle rescues, a pump testing and certification site and a storage garage.


The burn building is what firefighters are talking about, said Ken North, training coordinator for the Franklin County Fire Chiefs' Association.

At the burn building, three wooden pallets and a bale of straw will burn at 1,800 degrees. Crews will enter the building, extinguish the fire, practice ventilating the structure, use the ladder and, if necessary, rescue "Andy," a 200-pound lifelike dummy.

Volunteer firefighter David Walker, 33, with the New Franklin Fire Department, remembers thinking when he first went into a burning home years ago, "Why am I doing this?" During that call, he acted mostly as a "go-fer," pulling extra hose and getting the ladders for more experienced firefighters.

For training now, he and others must travel to Harrisburg, Pa., or Lewistown, Pa. With the new facility, "I won't have to leave my family," Walker said. "I won't have to leave my job."

Franklin County has 16 volunteer fire departments and two with paid personnel. Each firefighter must undergo an 88-hour basic training course and take additional courses for first aid, handling hazardous materials, rescue operations and other duties.

Picking said he hopes to begin ground work in two to four weeks. The center could be finished next spring if funding is received.

The center will benefit everyone in the county, several officials said.

Since the center should help with firefighter recruitment and retention, insurance rates could go down, North said. The more certified firefighters a county has, the lower homeowners' insurance rates are.

Should a resident's home ever catch on fire, or if they are involved in an automobile accident, the outcome could be better, said Timothy Dunkle, administrator for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy.

"It means that firefighters are going to be much better trained," he said.

Project organizers still need $140,000. Punt secured a $600,000 state grant for the $1.2 million project, and each of the county's 22 municipalities pledged $1 per resident. That $130,000 was matched by the county.

The seed money for the project came in 1997 from the late Tony Gargaro, who willed $100,000 to the Fire Chiefs' Association.

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