Originally created 09/23/05

City may get fire department training center



Augusta's interim fire chief said Thursday his agency hopes to close next week on a former car dealership site slated to become the city's new fire department training center.

Chief Howard Willis said a 10-acre property, the former Bourne Toyota dealership property on Deans Bridge Road and Bobby Jones Expressway, is being purchased for about $720,000 to host the center.

"It will certainly help our firefighters in training them, and enhancing their skills," he said. "Developing that teamwork - it's going to be a tremendous asset.

"We're one of the largest fire departments east of the Mississippi (River) without a training center," he said. "We have to send people out of town, and that costs money."

Funds to renovate facilities on the property and equip the center are slated to come from the next special local-option sales tax measure, which will be put before voters in November.

Six million dollars are slated to be divided between a replacement firehouse for Fire Station No. 10 on Washington Road and the training center, said city administrator Fred Russell. The $720,000 to buy the property comes from previous special-tax revenue.

If the new measure fails in November, money would have to come from somewhere else.

"Even though the SPLOST is a focal point," Chief Willis said, "we're also looking at other means of funding if it doesn't go through."

"We're also looking at using a public-private partnership," Mr. Russell said, "getting some of our major chemical companies to help fund it ... and set it up as a regional training center."

The new center could make money for the county if it attracts private industry and other fire departments from the area, Chief Willis and Mr. Russell said.

"Companies send people all over the world for training," Mr. Russell said. "There's no reason why we can't do that here."

The center also would help property owners, as a training center will help reduce Insurance Services Office ratings used to determine insurance rates, Chief Willis said.

"We've always lost points on that," he said.

Fire administration offices, currently located in the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corporation building on Laney Walker Boulevard, and the fire investigation and prevention bureau on Reynolds Street, will be consolidated to the center, the chief said.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.

IMPACT



A new training center for the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department will help firefighters improve their skills, provide training for other firefighters and potentially private industry and help to lower insurance risk ratings, potentially leading to lower premiums.