Firefighters plan training center

PARKERSBURG – Wood County firefighters asked the county commission for financial help with a proposed $437,000 emergency services training center.

The center could be used by fire, police and emergency services departments as well as private industry.

Parkersburg Fire Department Chief Eric Taylor said the city of Parkersburg has agreed to donate 1.5 acres for the classroom and burn tower facility behind Fire Station 6. The station is at 2311 Camden Ave.

“This facility is something that is needed in the city and state. We’ve been trying to do this for the 35 years I’ve been here,” said Terry Hefner, president of the Wood County Firefighters Association.

“It’s a joint effort. It will benefit all the departments,” Taylor said.

Jason Fleak, training officer for the PFD, told commissioners he is aware of only two other training/burn buildings in the state. Belpre, Ohio, has one, but Fleak said there had been “scheduling issues and other problems” with trying to use that facility.

The proposed Wood County facility would include a four-story tower with a two-story residential section that could be used by police, Special Weapons and Tactics training, fire officials told the commission.

“We are required to have a live burn training exercise in order to be certified,” Fleak said. The facilities would also include opportunities for other specialized training.

Officials said groundbreaking for the classroom was Thursday.

“The city fire department is building a classroom over there; two classrooms large enough for 42 students on each side. That will be open to the county for use everyday,” Fleak said. “We are doing that on our own, and the tower will sit in the other section.” The building construction and labor costs are about $387,000, with the total project cost being $437,000.

The Wood County Fire School Committee has about $55,000 in a savings account for the project, Fleak said.

“I have letters of support from outlying counties who are interested in it, and we feel they would help fund it through a fee, and the fire school, which brings in money, could help fund this,” Fleak said.

“Once it’s built, there should not be much of an ongoing cost involved. Because of the proximity to the fire station, we feel the city will be able to absorb a lot of those costs, probably the utilities and a lot of the maintenance,” Taylor said. The annual maintenance cost for the tower would be $2,500 a year for the company to inspect everything, fire officials said.

“Many of the local plants have trouble finding this type of facility for their training. This would be a great asset for them as well,” Hefner said.

“It sounds like a good project, but I’d like to see your revenue projections and other costs,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

“It would be controlled by the county firefighters association. The classroom is a separate project we are doing,” Fleak said.

Commissioner Steve Gainer asked about the possibility of grants to fund the construction costs.

“We already checked into that. You cannot get a grant for a permanent structure,” Fleak said.

Fire officials said they have contacted local bank officials about a loan. Fleak said the prosecutor was checking into whether the fire association could get a loan. Fleak said fire officials were told they might be able to get a lower interest rate loan if the county would get involved in a lease/purchase, redevelopment loan project.

With a 20-year term, payments would be about $23,000-$27,000 or $28,000 annually, fire officials said.

“But somebody has to pay for it some way, it looks like it might have the potential for being a revenue source,” Dunn said.

Fire officials asked the county to consider assisting the association with a bank loan, which would mean they could quality for the lower interest for the project, or if available, to provide some funding from the county budget for the project.

Commissioner Blair Couch noted the county cannot obligate funds for more than one fiscal year, but there are options available for longer term projects.

“We have the seed money from the fire school funds; the land is available. We are asking the county commission to either help us qualify for the lower interest rate loan or contribute. We have run the numbers and we anticipate carrying the debt service, with the city providing the land, site development and maintenance,” Taylor said.

“I think we are all behind it. We are aware of the need,” Dunn said.

“So you need a commitment from the county on helping to pay the debt service. I think we could take a look at this prior to working on our budget in March, looking for funding to see the commitment level,” Couch said.

“As far as money goes, we are really tight. We have limited finances. I think we totally support the project, but don’t expect too much from us financially,” Dunn told the fire officials.

The county annually gives the Wood County Firefighters School $6,000. In addition each of the 10 volunteer departments receive $17,000 yearly, plus another $20,871 to help with insurance costs.