In today's post-9/11 world, demand for extensive and realistic emergency responder training has never been higher. A new $35 million facility at Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW) in Appleton, WI, will help meet that need.
Scheduled to open in January, the Public Safety Training Center will operate as a division of Fox Valley Technical College, with both classroom and hands-on venues for law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service (EMS) students and practitioners.
"No other facility in the Midwest - and perhaps the entire country - will provide the variety and depth of training of this facility," says Jeremy Hansen, associate dean of the technical college.
The center will be staffed by 14 full-time instructors and 480 adjunct instructors, most with specialized areas of expertise. Organizations that use the facility also can bring in their own instructors, if preferred. Prices vary widely, depending on the venue(s). Rates range from $90 per hour to $250 per hour, depending on what services are needed. Additional fees may be added for consumables such as ammunition, gasoline, propane, foam, etc. There is no extra charge to use the facility if a Public Safety Training Center instructor is used.
Project: New Public Safety Training Center
Location: Outagamie County (WI) Regional Airport
Cost: $35 million
Funding: Public referendum, approved by 2:1 margin
Approx. Size: 75 acres
Scheduled Opening: Jan. 2015
Operated By: Fox Valley Technical College
Key Benefits: New training venue for industry; increased traffic for airport; boost to regional economy
According to Hansen, an extensive outdoor training area will be the heart of the 75-acre facility. "Our outdoor training stations make us unique, and offer real-world training for any category of emergency responders," he emphasizes.
Key venues include:
• Four outdoor firing ranges, designed for standard pistol rounds as well as .223- and 308-caliber ammunition
Each range accommodates six shooters and is completely enclosed with precast concrete panels and overhead baffles to prevent rounds from escaping. Shooters using the two 50-yard ranges can move up and down range rather than being limited to a fixed firing line. The 100-yard and 300-yard ranges allow medium- and long-range rifle training from fixed shooting positions. Large side doors enable users to bring a vehicle into the range for training.
• Emergency vehicle operations course with a 5/8-mile pursuit track, 210,000-square-foot skid pad and a similar-size skills pad
The course is designed to teach standard safe driving techniques for police, fire and emergency medical vehicles as well as emergency maneuvers, skids and off-road recovers, pursuit driving and other special operations. The pursuit track includes corner/smooth curves, divided highway sections, a simulated construction area, recovery zone and staging area. The skills pad is specially designed for training serpentine, straight line backing and other special maneuvers. The skid pad includes an irrigation system to flood it.
• A simulated village with a variety of residential and commercial buildings
Dubbed "River City," the mock community includes one-and two-story homes, a branch bank, hotel/motel with bar, and gas station/convenience store for diverse training scenarios. Additional buildings will be constructed in coming years, notes Hansen.
"These structures can be used for crime scene investigations, search and rescue for firefighters, and mock medical emergencies," he says.
The village is designed for simultaneous use by multiple groups and various disciplines. While police use one house to practice clearing a building, a separate group of investigators can be processing a crime scene in a staged meth lab or growing operation next door. Meanwhile, EMS students could be responding to a choreographed medical situation at the hotel.
• A decommissioned Boeing 727, half configured for cargo, the other half for passengers
"With this setup, the plane can offer specific training for air marshals and EMS crews in the passenger section, while explosives and narcotics can be planted (in the cargo bay) to train firefighters and drug-sniffing dogs," Hansen says. "We expect this plane to be one of our most popular training venues."
FedEx donated the former cargo aircraft to Fox Valley Technical College to support its training venture. After the plane landed at ATW, a large Case IH Steiger tug towed it to the new center.
Aircraft rescue firefighting (ARFF) personnel can use the non-burnable prop to practice tactical approaches and water and foam application. Future plans include building an FAA-approved live-burn ARFF simulator on another parcel of airport property.
• A house with 16 separate areas for practicing forcible entry procedures
With nearly 5,000 square feet of space, the house includes 16 distinct rooms and hallways, with various windows and doors that can be breached. "Authorities can practice clearing a room, ramming a door open or using paintball weapons for mock firefights," Hansen explains. Flash bangs and simulated smoke add to the realism of the training.
• A train derailment training venue located on the outskirts of the simulated village
The scene includes 150 feet of track, a railroad crossing and three general service tank cars. One of the cars sits upright; two are positioned as if they had been involved in an accident. The cars will be piped to leak water and high-pressure air, simulating a hazardous material release.
Space is available for additional track and cars, and the venue can be piped for propane to allow live-burn training, notes Hansen.
• A fire training burn building/tower with residential and commercial portions
A total of eight burnable rooms are scattered throughout the structure, including three in the tower portion. Areas include two- and six-story apartment buildings, a two-story residential home with an attached garage that contains a vehicle and a commercial structure with a flat roof and parapet. The tower also includes a six-story elevator shaft with an elevator stuck between floors.
• Two fire investigation burn pods
Each pod contains two 12-foot-square rooms, which can be constructed to mimic bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, etc. "We will create a fire, put it out, and then let the arson team in to see if they can find the cause," notes Hansen.
• A 20-foot-deep drafting pond/water rescue venue
The 240-foot by 300-foot training area allows divers to practice rescue and recovery tactics using two 20-foot-square platforms. One contains a submerged car; the other will eventually house a small plane.
At first glance, an underwater aircraft rescue prop may seem impractical. But Hansen explains its utility: "Every summer, the Experimental Aircraft Association has its annual convention here, and suddenly we get 10,000 small private planes from all over the world descending upon nearby Oshkosh. With so many aircraft, it is not uncommon for one of them to crash into Lake Winnebago, a large but fairly shallow lake with a maximum depth of only 22 feet. Sooner or later, local rescue units will be needed for search and rescue missions."
The pond can also be used during winter for ice water rescues, and for practicing booming to contain a hazardous material spill.
The center's 96,000-square-foot main building includes:
• 15 classrooms, each with capacity for 40 students
One classroom configured for EMS training includes the box of an ambulance mounted on a pneumatic table. "It moves up and down, side to side, just as though it is driving down the road," Hansen relates.
The ambulance box was put in place before the building's steel support structure was erected, and the facility was constructed around it, he notes.
• 40-station computer lab that can be separated into two rooms
• Banquet-style multipurpose room that can hold up to 224 people
• Kitchen facilities that can serve meals for large groups
• Forensics laboratory with analysis equipment and fume hoods
• Two 10-lane firing ranges
Both are fully baffled, allowing shooters to practice their marksmanship at various distances up to 75 feet. Like the center's outdoor ranges, the indoor facilities can handle any standard pistol round as well as .223- and 308-caliber ammunition.
• Two 1,600-square-foot defensive and arrest tactics (DAAT) rooms
• 1,500-square-foot fitness room with weight machines and cardio equipment
• Jail training area that includes a sally port with observation window, booking counter, cells, interrogation room and interview room
• Fire training area with six-bay apparatus room for fire engines, ladder trucks, technical rescue vehicles, wildland firefighting vehicles and equipment, ambulance and other equipment
Close Collaboration with Airport
Building the new training facility on airport property required a great deal of coordination between Fox Valley Technical College and ATW, notes Airport Director Abe Weber. Planning for the center began in October 2005.
Because the facility is located in a low-elevation area previously used for farming, the land required extensive site preparation. "We first had to remove the original cropland and plant endophyte fescue grasses, which waterfowl don't like. We have to mow continuously to reduce nesting areas," Weber explains. "We also had to reconstruct a perimeter fence, from 10 to 12 feet high, to keep out wild animals."
The ponds were another issue. "We had to work closely with the state Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure no wildlife is attracted to our ponds," he continues. "We try to prevent any vegetation growing near them that might attract wildlife."
With site preparations complete and the new Public Safety Training Center ready for customers, Weber foresees potential traffic growth for ATW. "We think that in a few years, we will be getting more and more training groups from around the country flying in here for classes," he explains, noting that the airport already offers direct flights to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Phoenix.
Weber does not expect activity at the center to alarm passengers at the airport, even though training exercises will entail flashing lights, sirens and even controlled fires. "So far, that has not been an issue," he reports. "Our lease with them spells out in detail what they will be doing, and it should not affect passengers at all."
Hansen agrees with Weber about the center's potential, but acknowledges that growth will take time. "At first, we expect emergency responders from our local area to utilize it, and then groups from around the Upper Midwest," Hansen predicts. "Eventually, we hope to get people from other parts of the country. There are many hotels and restaurants only a mile or two away."
The proximity of Pierce Manufacturing, one of the largest fire truck manufacturers in the United States, is expected to be a parallel draw for groups training at the new center.
If the facility takes off as expected, the airport has another 35 acres available for possible expansion, notes Hansen. But for now, he and his staff eagerly await the center's official opening