January 15, 2016

Training center helping build better firefighters

CFDBob Ellis/staff photographer
Homer firefighter Tyler Signor prepares to drag a “victim” from a house fire during training at the Cortlandville Fire Department’s Regional Training Center, Tompkins Street Extension, on June 16, 2013. The facility provides a central location for all emergency responders to train for various operations.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — In the late 1990s, it served as a Volkswagen dealership and body shop. Now, the building behind the fire station has served more than 4,000 firefighters and other local and state officials as the Cortland County Regional Training Center.
The center on Tompkins Street Extension provides a central location for all emergency responders to train for the different operations they may be called upon to do.
“Our fire departments use it quite regularly and consistently,” Kevin Whitney, Cortland County deputy fire coordinator, said Wednesday. “We’ve been seeing other outside agencies that are coming in to use the training center.”
Neighboring fire districts like Marathon, Homer and Virgil have used the space to go through high-level training without having to travel too far.
“It’s a huge asset that the county has and it has made it much more easier for our fire departments to train on the more real-life situation scenarios you get into,” said Jereme Stiles, the Virgil fire chief.
Stiles said the facility allows his department to practice using its bailout systems. Bailout systems are packs that firefighters carry that provide a harness for getting out of a window that is above ground level.
Volunteer and professional firefighters have commonly used the Regional Training Center to go through160 hours of “boot camp,” where they practice crawling through a smoke-filled rooms, entering a home through a second-story window, getting changed into their gear in under two minutes and going through a maze with common obstacles that firefighters experience when entering a home.
For many others, some types of training aren’t as physically demanding as what the firefighters do.
Another building at the facility, which used to be a body shop, serves as a visual training center. It is equipped with a large screen and high-tech projector equipment to help with the audio/visual aspect of training.
“We have been using it once a year for the last couple of years as a part of a statewide conservation skills workshop,” said Amanda Barber, director of the Cortland County Soil and Water District. “People have come across the state to Cortland (for this).”
The classroom is available to any agency whose operations benefit county emergency responders, Whitney said.
He said that while many groups that have used the classroom were from the county, it has also served agencies from surrounding counties.
“I am well aware of the center and I would definitely say it’s been positive for our economy,” said Bob Haight, executive director for the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s good anytime we can have something unique in Cortland that is as unique as it is and draws people in.”
The center not only brings in emergency responders from out of town, but keeps local officers in Cortland for training, cutting back on travelexpenses.
“Last year, the sheriff’s department had a homicide class (there),” Whitney said. “They always had to travel to Syracuse in the past, but now they have it here.”
The center began taking shape in 2004 when the Cortlandville Fire Department received a $25,000 grant arranged by state Sen. James Seward (R-Milford). It officially opened in 2008, Whitney said.
He said having the facility makes training more consistent and gives departments the opportunity to “produce a better product,” since all the training is done in-house.
Firefighters have to be trained in 67 skills, like forcing a door or getting in and out of their gear quickly, Whitney said. The facility allows the firefighters to train in all of those skills, without having leave town.
“Those guys have done a tremendous job with what they have built there,” Haight said. “What’s more, they’re teaching firefighters to save lives.”

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