Providing the latest in progressive training for county firefighters, Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services’ new training facility is expected to break ground this fall, and a recent $1.28 million settlement could help push the project along.
County Manager Jerry Cooper said the funds from the Patton Construction settlement have been earmarked for increasing the training center’s construction budget.
The county filed suit against Patton Construction in the early 2000s after mold was discovered in five of the county’s “Community Centers” the contractor was hired to complete. The community centers are stations 22, 23, 21, 12 and 4, which not only house the fire department, but also a sheriff’s office precinct and a community meeting room.
“The mold issues began in early 2001 when the contractor allowed the installation of interior finishes, as well as mechanical equipment prior to completion of the roofing systems,” Cooper said.
Heavy rains hit the area, allowing water to penetrate the building and cause mold growth.
“Patton Construction was instructed to resolve the problems by replacing sheetrock, mechanical systems, etc.,” Cooper said, adding that the company did not see the project through and fire personnel began to complain, sparking an investigation.
He said as a result of the probe, it was discovered that the structures were constructed poorly.
“The county hired experts to assist with our investigation and identified solutions to resolve problems with water penetration, including design issues,” he explained. “We received bids to solve the problems and the work was completed in 2007.”
Cooper said while mold remediation and construction was under way, firefighters, as well as the county, filed suit against Patton Construction, subcontractors and designers.
The legal battle, he added, lasted several years.
“The cost to resolve construction/design issues was in the neighborhood of $3.2 million,” Cooper said, adding that the county has received $1.275 million as settlement from Patton Construction and others named in the suit. The firefighters’ settlements were not divulged.
The county’s settlement, coupled with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax V and VI funds reserved for the training center, has pushed the total construction budget to more than $3.5 million.
Groundbreaking on the Fire-ES’ training facility should commence this fall, with the bulk of the project aimed for completion by next summer.
The primary goal is constructing a burn building.
“We need the burn building to get us good credit with ISO (Insurance Service Office),” said Cherokee County Fire Chief Tim Prather. “We are hoping it will be a big punch and help push us over the edge because the training side is big with ISO.”
Currently, the county holds an ISO rating of a 5. ISO rates departments on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the worst in fire protection. Lower ISO ratings save homeowners money on their property insurance.
Alongside hopes of improving Fire-ES’ current ISO, having a local training center has a fiscal impact, as the county would not need to foot the bill for firefighters to travel to other counties for live burn training. “From a budget perspective, it has helped us with that, ” Prather said.
The training facility itself was designed under a tight budget, but Assistant Fire Chief Eddie Robinson said he is confident the money will suffice.
“I’m going to make it hold out,” he said. “We put a lot into this to make it (aesthetically-pleasing), to meet the needs of services we offer and to be cost-effective.”
Robinson, who is at the helm of training for Fire-ES, said the training facility will be constructed on a little more than 14.5 acres of land and will feature elite equipment designed with local architecture in mind.
When looking at the 4,000 square foot burn building from the front, Robinson said the unit resembles a single-story home; from the right side it looks like a two-story home; and from the other side, it mimics a single-story home with a basement.
The burn building was designed based on the three most common home styles in Cherokee County.
Located adjacent to the burn building will be a four-story fire tower. “We are designing it so that if the county decides to go higher, we can increase the tower,” Robinson said. “We are trying to build this thing to simulate what we have here in Cherokee County.”
Firefighters/paramedics will utilize the tower, which has an elevator shaft and manhole inside, for rope rappelling and rescue drills.
“We can reconfigure it to support a lot of the things we deal with when it comes to search and rescue,” Robinson said.
Another building on the property is a simulated fire station.
“We can do work during inclement weather; it’s what we call a dirty classroom,” Robinson said.
Sitting in the back right of the training center site is a pond that was used by the previous owner for irrigation. Water from the manmade pond will be pressurized into a hydrant for training.
“The (non-potable) water used is captured and put back into the pond,” Robinson explained. “If we were using municipal water, we’d have to return it to the sewerage. The cost to taxpayers would be significant.”
The pond will also be deepened so the county dive team can train.
With the training facility, Robinson said Advanced Life Support always is on scene; therefore, one of the nine county ambulances does not have to go out of service for training.
When an ambulance goes out of service, the firefighter/paramedics are not training, they are there for emergency situations.
“In the apparatus staging building we have a medical room with a locked safe containing the first round of ALS — everything a paramedic would need while we wait for an ambulance,” Robinson said. “Now, all we have to do is have a paramedic on-site; we don’t have to pull an ambulance out of service.”
Robinson said this was a huge service and a cost-saving move.
Moving forward in future project growth, Robinson said Fire-ES would also construct a vehicle extrication area, trench rescue, a fitness trail with workout stations and an area for expansion, possibly for a commercial burn structure.
A road also is planned to go around the facility for apparatuses training.
The course will be constructed with concrete because asphalt would give out quicker.
“It’s no secret that our goal is to be able to get to the incident safely; we take driver training seriously,” Robinson said.
In addition to the elite facility, the county fire department heads have aimed at making the facility family-friendly.
“The public can go to a fenced area and watch; we want it to be kid-friendly,” Robinson said, adding that a pavilion will be installed to allow for picnics areas or comfortable viewing.