Although Bartow County and Cartersville fire departments for a couple of months have conducted limited training operations at the Paga Mine Road fire training facility, which includes a two-story burn building and a four-and-a-half story rescue tower, the project is about a year overdue. Officials had anticipated a fall 2009 completion date.
"There were some substantial issues on site with compliance with soil erosion and sedimentation control. It was never a problem, but some corrective actions had to be taken. That delayed us," Cartersville Fire Chief Scott Carter said. "The winter that we had affected the project extensively and then there was actually a delay in receiving a structure itself, the fire burning building. It's one of those situations where we decided it was better to take a slower approach to make sure it was done right than to press it to get it done in a hurry."
Carter said the $1.5-million project has reached substantial completion, and officials expect the facility to be operational in about a month. He and Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap are currently working to firm up design plans for the construction of an open air pavilion, which will be used for training sessions and demonstrations.
Confined space simulators and other areas for various instruction were to be included the 2003 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax-funded project but tax revenue collections fell short, Millsap said. Permanent classrooms would come in Phase II of the project, but for now officials plan to use portable units from a local high school.
Millsap said he and Carter also are in the planning stages of Phase II, but officials need to identify a funding source. After groundbreaking, officials apparently changed the plans for the firefighter training facility to be shared by the county and city.
"[Planning entails identifying funding] and looking at what we have and what our future needs are; we saw that it would be better to split [the construction] because it wouldn't be good to build something we're going to outgrow shortly, based on how this thing goes," Millsap said. "We have put the classroom portion of it off until that next phase as well as some of the training props that we will end up utilizing around the grounds, such as training for building collapse and trench rescue and things like that will also go into this facility. Currently we'll have two portable classrooms out there. We're going to look and see what both our departments are going to end up needing in the future."
Additional SPLOST funding would require an extension of the 1-cent special-purpose sales tax approved by voters.
"As it stands now, it's something we're going to have to budget for and do when the money's available and we all know tight money is right now in every sector," Millsap said. "Right now we're in a good position. We're a lot better than most fire departments in our state. We're able to do the majority of our training in house, between us and the city of Cartersville. We were having to send people away to the state training facility in Forsyth. They weren't here for their shifts, we had to cover them with part-time employees or run short to get these firefighters this training. Having this facility here is going to be great for both departments."
Firefighters are required to undergo 240 hours of training per year and perform live fire simulations and skills evaluations. In past years, local fire personnel were required to travel to the state-run facility or nearby training grounds, and the city and county footed the bill for their firefighters' fuel, and room and board.
In addition to decreasing the costs of training, fire officials last year said they would increase training objectives and standards for local firefighters when the Paga Mine Road facility came on line.