By DENISE GRANT
Plans for a $1 million training complex for first responders in Findlay and Hancock County got the green light Tuesday from Findlay City Council’s Appropriations Committee.
The committee spent about an hour going over the details of the plan, which would require at least a $250,000 contribution by the city. City officials are expected to approach the Hancock County commissioners with the plans.
So far, funding would rely on the contribution from council, $250,000 already committed by the business sector and a grant of $100,000 from the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation. Community fundraising would add another $300,000. The commissioners will also be asked to make a contribution, if they support the plan.
The “Simulated Tactical Response & Incident Command Training Center” or STRICT Center would be built in two stages: a training building would cost about $700,000 to build, and a live fire “burn building” would cost about $300,000.
The training building or the “tower building” will house two independent training structures. There will be a “search house” that replicates a two-story residence and a “confined-space” training structure geared toward technical rescue proficiency.
A drive-through bay in the training building will allow for fire trucks, patrol cars and ambulances to arrive on scene, just like they would in real emergencies. The building would also be able to simulate night operations.
The burn building would replicate a typical two-story residential structure fire, with two burn rooms downstairs and one upstairs. A swing-out wall section and a movable central panel-maze area would keep training from becoming routine.
Construction could start in the fall of 2020, with the facility to open in the spring of 2021. The center would be located on Hancock County 236 next to Findlay Fire Station 4.
Findlay Fire Chief Joshua Eberle said the training center would be a “game changer” for Findlay/Hancock County’s emergency preparedness.
“I see this as a big opportunity to make a significant investment in public safety for this entire region,” Eberle said.
Use of the training complex would be free to all first responders in Findlay and Hancock County. Outside agencies would be charged a fee.
The idea for the training facility was first introduced at a Hancock County Fire Chiefs meeting in 2018, and was greeted with unanimous support. Eberle said training is expensive and often requires travel, or relies on the donation of houses or buildings. Or the firefighters just adapt to whatever is available, training at a fire station or outside.
There are about 450 first responders in the county, including fire, law enforcement and emergency medical services. About 80 percent of the firefighters are volunteers. At an average tuition of $150 per day for training, the base training cost would be $67,500, not counting travel expenses.
The project already has letters of support from the following agencies: the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office; Hanco EMS; fire departments in the townships of Allen, Washington, Liberty, Blanchard and Delaware; Vanlue and Arlington fire departments; and the Southwestern Hancock Joint Fire District of Mount Cory and Jenera; the Millstream Career Center; Bowling Green State University; One Energy; and Western Buckeye Training.
On Tuesday, Appropriations Committee members asked for more specific numbers on Findlay’s training expenses and questioned insurance liabilities for the training building, but still voted in favor of pursuing the idea.
Eberle said what the city spends now on training doesn’t come close to the training that is actually needed.
During an actual emergency, he said it would be hard to put a price on the value of all Hancock County’s first responders having access to the additional training the facility would provide.