A low bid of $150,489 from WHP Training Towers of Overland Park, Kan., was accepted at the Thursday, April 26, Walker County commissioner’s meeting.
“They have actually gone out to Cartersville, Jackson, Rome and looked at the facilities that this company has built at those state departments and it more than meets our specs,” said Walker County coordinator David Ashburn.
The fire training tower is a specially-made fire-resistant building designed to aid in firefighter and emergency training procedures. Such a building would be a huge step up from the current training methods for the county’s fire emergency personnel, who currently do not have a single, central location which could encompass all of their training needs effectively and safely.
“It’s a building designed where you can burn repetitive fires in,” said Camp. “And it’s got some option on it which helps, you know, vacate the smoke, so if you had an issue with firefighters or something of that nature it’s got emergency procedures built in.
The total price of $150,489 includes construction, shipping and installation. Walker County will perform the pre-paratory dirt work and lay the concrete foundation through its road department.
Though no grants were awarded for this specific purpose, fortuitous timing with the closing of a lease-purchase agreement at the end of 2012 means that the fire department will be able to afford the training tower without strain.
“We are finishing out a lease-purchase right now that we’ve had for the last ten years for a certain amount of equipment. That will be paid off. . .and so at that point, we’re looking at just continuing that lease-purchase which is in the budget to be paid each year. And it will be a lesser amount than is in it right now to get that equipment.”
“In the fire department budget for the last ten years, we have had three hundred and something-thousand dol-lars earmarked to pay off the lease-purchase,” said Ashburn. “That will be paid off the end of this year, so if we put this lease-purchase in, it will just keep going for the next five years after that like it is right now. And that money is in the budget and will continue to be in that budget. It’s a capital outlet expense for that.”
The lease-purchase agreement is being handled through a third-party organization, much like a loan, and will continue to be arranged the same way.
The fire-training tower will be a metal two-story building with three rooms whose configurations can be altered to create different fire and emergency scenarios.
“The interior will have movable panels,” said Camp, “so we can reconfigure the structure inside so we can give them a different look each time so they’re not doing the same thing over and over and over. A lot of options that are in the spec have their own specific use to specific training. It won’t be just for burning; that’s it’s primary function. But there’s a so many other things we’ll be able to do with it that we have not been able to do in the past.
“We’ll be able to do high-angle rescue from rappelling, so they can use ropes to rappel off and practice that skill,” said Camp. “They’ll be able to use the two-story tower portion for ladder training.
“All our crew training...Even our multi-county drills we do with the volunteers on Monday nights, it’ll aid in that as well,” he said.
The lease-purchase will also be used to help Walker County purchase four more water-pumping fire engines, which the county hopes to obtain gently used and at a discounted cost.
Recent ISO requirement changes make the new fire engines a necessity, especially as Walker County is facing an ISO rating inspection this autumn.
“Our current burn buildings, they’re not really designed for a burn building, per se, we just kind of use those shipping containers that we have at Station 5. And we’ve rebuilt them and rebuilt them until it’s really not safe to keep going in them, but we need something that we can take our new firefighters and train them how to attack fires properly.”
“It’s very important,” said Camp. “We used to get houses that were going to be torn down and use those, and peo-ple were all the time like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a house here you can use for training,’ but with the EPA laws so rigid now...to burn a house now you have to take the shingles off, get a third party test to make sure there’s no asbestos, lead-based paint, take the insulation out, take the wiring off, the piping, the whole thing.”
With the inspection looming, obtaining a quality training building and all the required equipment is crucial to helping the county achieve a higher score.
“One of the pushes for fire equipment right now is that we’re going to be re-rated in October and we’re trying to get a three,” said commissioner Bebe Heiskell. “And it will save the taxpayers a lot of money because it will reduce the cost of homeowner’s insurance and it will also give the retailers and the industrial properties an opportunity to lower theirs considerably.”
There are no guarantees that equipment improvements to the fire department will earn Walker County a lower rating, but it certainly gives it a better chance. “There’s a lot of variables,” in what decides a rating, said Camp, though he is hopeful.
“Still even our 4, we’re very proud of the 4. Out of 30,000 fire departments in the country, only 1,400 have a class 4 and we’re one of those. And in the state of Georgia, we’re only one of four countywide departments that have a 4 in the state of Georgia. So the 4 was a great milestone for our department to achieve. And it still continues to this day, for a rural department on the budget – out of those four counties in the state of Georgia, we have the lowest budget of all of them.
“I’m still very proud of the work that the men and women of our department do every day to maintain it,” he con-cluded.