A new Douglas Volunteer Fire Department training complex may be on the horizon.
DVFD Chief Rick Andrews recently asked the city and county for $1.2 million to build the facility. The city was quick to ante up half of the amount; the county is waiting on its budget process in June to make a decision on the other half.
The funding is vital to the facility’s construction, Andrews said. City council has covered nearly half of the initial costs by unanimously voting in favor of the $600,000.
The prospect of this new project has floated around the department for the past five to 10 years, according to Andrews, and the first steps were taken last year when the city and county approved $200,000 for capitol improvements. That will be added to the $1.2 million to cover the estimated $1.4 million cost of the initial phase — the training tower, burn building and site work.
The fire department would also like to build a classroom this year, but it may have to wait for another phase if they don’t have enough money.
The preliminary estimates for all phases of project hover around $2.4 million, Andrews explained. This would include the classroom building and a storage building to house two backup fire engines. The trucks would be used for training purposes, but could also be used to respond to calls if need be.
Benefits of the classroom building could extend to the whole community. Similar to the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, a fire school could attract students and families from around the state. This could be a worthwhile investment, as these visitors could generate revenue and strengthen the city’s general economy — a notion that city council took into consideration when approving the budget.
As they are largely still in the planning stages, DVFD has been in contact with other fire schools around the state. Assistant Fire Chief Trevor Panasuk said that this communication has been important in learning what other institutions have.
“We’re trying to incorporate some of that stuff in our building that (other schools) aren’t able to have,” Panasuk iterated, noting one such element is a used wind turbine for rope rescue training.
According to Panasuk, the potential training complex and fire school will be most similar to the facility in Evanston, as DVFD plans to use the same manufacturer (Fire Facilities Inc.) and use similar building materials, including a red iron skeleton and Galvalume (a high-temperature metal) coating.
“We don’t want to compete with any of the other classes (or) the other schools that are going on, period. We’d like to have our own,” Andrews said.
The complex would likely be built near the city’s Waste Water Treatment Center next to the Platte River – an ideal spot because it is relatively isolated from other structures and people. Andrews clarified that he doesn’t anticipate issues with smoke, but simply wants to pose as little inconvenience to the community as possible.
DVFD officials communicate with representatives of energy companies about the potential layout. Mark Mollman, emergency preparedness and response manager for Chesapeake Energy, and DVFD have been in touch to ensure the new facility is equipped to train students to deal with oil-field fires.
Mollman said there’s been talk of implementing a duplicate oil-pad site at the new school for training purposes. In the case of an emergency, this would ensure that firefighters have early access to vital knowledge, like how valving is marked and where to find emergency shut-down buttons.
Although Andrews stressed that most of the funding for the new complex will need to come from the city and council, they aren’t excluding other sources.
Panasuk said they’ve reached out to about 24 companies asking for donations. Although they don’t have concrete agreements (except for small donations for training equipment), a lot of companies have expressed interest.
“It’s in the beginning stages,” Mollman said. “Once we come to find out what they need, (we’ll) see what we can do to assist.”
Andrews noted that the state’s looking at building another structure to coincide with their training facility. This would provide a location for members of the Industrial Fire Brigade to become certified.
Andrews hopes the state may assist in paying for the classroom, as they would likely use it.
“We haven’t even touched base with them (about the classroom) yet,” Andrews said.