Commissioners tour firefighter training facility in Alleghany

James HowellStaff

August 12, 2012

Firefighters and commissioners from Ashe County enjoyed a tour of Alleghany County’s fire training center last Wednesday evening.

The purpose of the tour was to gather information about the benefits and potential pitfalls of a fire training center. Alleghany County Manager Don Adams opened this tour by expressing the importance of having a fire training center. In reference to the administrative work that went into the site, Adams said, “It took a while to plan and agree on.”

In an interview Thursday, Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell said, “Don Adams did an excellent job presenting us with the information we need.” She also stated that the tour was a “preliminary meeting before a future discussion with the board of commissioners.”

The training center includes two buildings. The first building toured was a three story “tower” where firefighters practice running up flights of stairs. The inside of the building had been fortified with steel and insulation to withstand intense heat. This gives a smothering effect that should prepare firefighters for real life emergencies.

The other building, called a flashover simulator, has a smaller two compartment layout that teaches firefighters how to contend with the rapid expansion of heat and smoke given off by a growing fire. The Alleghany flashover simulator cost about $38,000, but Adams made sure to state the importance of having this facility.

The overall budget for the Alleghany Fire Training Center is $700,755. Out of that, $681,192 has already been spent on the center.

Alleghany County did get some help constructing this center, including $190,000 from grants. Adams stated that they were fortunate to get ARRA funding, but it wasn’t enough to pay for the whole thing. Alleghany County contributed a total of $303,000 from the county fund to help pay for the training center.

When asked about considerations for building a fire training center in Ashe County, Adams suggested not building a center on a wetlands area. He cited multiple problems with getting estimates and grating the wetlands site.

When asked how much more the center cost because of building it on wetlands, Adams said it was approximately $191,000. However, this isn’t the only reason to avoid areas around water, he said.

“Don’t look at property next to a stream,” said Adams. Building the facility close to a stream boxed them in, limiting their freedom to expand outward, he said. “That ended up shrinking our parking lot.”

He went on to explain that having a big parking lot is important, because driving a firetruck takes practice. A big parking lot is an ideal place to practice. This requires heavy duty pavement. Adams said, “If you want to talk about money, you’re standing on it,” because the fire center parking lot ended up costing $114,000.

Adams said that he would have looked at other bids, but it would have been more expensive to “piecemeal” this project.

When Ashe Fire Chief Chris Welch asked Adams about the facility’s overall operating cost, Adams didn’t give an exact figure. Instead, he said that it was “relatively low.”

Other expenses included: propane for the fire center cost around $28,000; utilities ended up costing around $30,000; and an $80,000 budget was reserved for earthwork (grading) on the site.

When Commissioner Gary Roark was asked about a center being built in Ashe County, he said he “supports it 100 percent” and that “Ashe County needs one.”

Commissioner Gerald Price said that a training center “would be a great asset to the county.”