Fire training facility? Could be closer than ever

By Hannah Myers -

ASHE COUNTY —The potential for a fire training facility in Ashe County continues to look promising as the County attempts to answer crucial questions about the logistics of it being built.

According to County Manager Sam Yearick, the county is currently working to gather enough information about the possible fire training facility to give a formal presentation to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.

Yearick said the presentation could answer key questions such as where it would be placed, what the cost to build it would be and the biggest question — who is going to pay for it?

“I think that’s one of the big questions — who is going to pay for it? Is the county going to pay for it or will the fire departments pay for it?” Yearick said. “I would recommend the county pay for the facility if the fire departments would do the upkeep and pay for the utilities.”

Leonard Houck, president of Ashe County Fireman’s Association, came before the board in May to formally request the training facility and the land to put the facility on.

At that time, the facility was estimated to cost $340,000 – though in recent interviews Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick said the facility could cost $1 million – $1.5 million.

The need for a fire training facility in Ashe County comes from recent changes in state regulations which require expensive permits to be obtained to burn a building which fire departments use for training. The regulations became effective Jan. 1 of this year and has resulted in firefighters having to travel out of the county for training.

Donnie Miller, West Jefferson Fire Chief, came before commissioners during their meeting on Monday, Dec. 7 to update them on the West Jefferson Fire Department. Towards the end of his presentation, Miller spoke to the board about the need for the training facility.

“It’s going to be a big thing that this county really needs,” Miller said.

According to Miller, he receives several calls a year from community members who want a house to be burned but the cost to have the structures inspected is too expensive for both the homeowners and the fire department.

Miller said that an inspection for asbestos alone can range from $500-$2000.

“You can simulate, but it’s no where near having the hands on experience where we can actually light a fire and let the guys feel the heat and see what they’re up against,” Miller said. “But our hands are tied unless the homeowner wants to go through all the paperwork and stuff to get it freed up where we can.”

According to Yearick, although the new regulations do play a role in the need for the facility, it’s more than that.

“When is Ashe County ever going to get out of the fire department business. When will firefighting go away? The answer is, it wont,” Yearick said. “As long as Ashe County is here, we are going to be in the fire business.”

Yearick said he tries to treat each fire department similar to county departments which is why the county is involved in the process of bringing a training facility to Ashe County.

“We’re stronger together than we are separately,” Yearick said. “We’re so small that if we don’t all work together, then we’re going to have problems.”

In November, Commissioner Gary Roark had mentioned that Ashe County could have the fire training facility by this time next year, stating that the county was “working on it.”

Yearick confirmed that possibility on Monday.

“If we were to be able to do it, I would hope we would be able to start in the spring and have it finished by the fall,” Yearick said.

According to Yearick, nothing about the fire training facility is set in stone, but the county hopes to have the presentation ready for commissioners within the next 45 days.

Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.

By Hannah Myers

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