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Efforts Begin To Reopen Fire School

OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – Oswego County Fire Coordinator John Hinds welcomed the county’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee to his new home Monday at the county’s new fire school.

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Previously owned by National Grid, the county officially closed on the fire school July 1. Since that time, officials with Hinds’ office have been surveying the land, checking over equipment and working to put the facility back on line for training exercises.

Hinds noted that deputy county fire coordinators Don Forbes and Jack Cottet are both on board to deliver fire training instruction when the facility reopens. Cottet is a senior fire training instructor for the state. Forbes is also a state fire instructor who ran the fire school for 13 years before it closed nearly four years ago, Hinds said.

“They will be our two lead instructors,” Hinds said.

Hinds noted that the suggested name for the facility is the “Emergency Response Training Center.” His offices will also be located on site.

“Please don’t be discouraged by what you see today,” Hinds told the committee prior to a tour of the facility. He noted that while there is much work to be done, the facility will be a gem of fire service in Oswego County.

“Safety is our main goal,” Hinds added. “Safety of the staff. Safety of the trainees. … The center will be open when it is safe and ready to do so.”

Several steps are required before the doors will open, he noted. For example, before a burn exercise can be hosted, the fire tower will have to be inspected by someone who specializes in burn towers. The committee accepted a bid for an inspection at a cost of $5,320 during the meeting.

“How frequently we have to inspect it is based on how often we use it,” said Fred Maxon, the county’s purchasing director. Because the inspection will cost more than $5,000, the request will be taken to the full floor of the Legislature for consideration.

Hinds noted, too, that while there are a lot of machines on site, he and his staff are not turning them on at this time on the advice of contractors who are being brought in to test and repair the equipment. He noted that most of the equipment hasn’t been turned on in the 3-½ years that the facility was closed.

“A little TLC is needed all around,” he said.

Hinds noted that the facility will have to be brought up to the same code compliance as every other facility that the county owns. In addition, it has to meet NFPA standards for buildings and the program it will present.

In addition to classroom space, the burn tower and storage facilities, the site boasts 20 props that are used for all aspects of fire training activities. The props range in size from a full transformer site, a truck to simulate a vehicle fire, a ditch to simulate a fire from someone digging and damaging a fuel line and a propane barbecue grill.

The site also has a two-story building that is set up to simulate an industrial incident, a trailer that can be arranged more than a dozen ways to give trainees a feel for what they could encounter in the field and a building dedicated to sprinkler system training. Oil tanks that once held oil that was used for burns have been converted to confined space rescue props.

“The 20 props all need to be inspected, tested, repaired and operated,” Hinds said.

All of the fire props are operated with propane. During each activity, the trainer has the ability to flare a fire up or stop it immediately. Hinds noted that some of the props at the facility are the only one of their kind in New York State.

“Our big priority is quality training,” Hinds said. “It has been 3-½ years. Give us a chance and we’ll get the place back in shape.”

While local emergency services have had to train out of the area since the fire school closed, Forbes noted that the facility already has customers interested in coming back once trainings begin.

Hinds, who has completed training during his career at the fire school, said he is excited to see the facility will be back in use. He noted that years ago, training activities were more classroom centered with a smaller emphasis on actual fire training.

“With this facility, the trainees will spend an hour in a classroom learning how to do something and the second hour out doing it,” he said. “We will have the whole range of training here, from basic firefighting to management.”

Because the fires are controlled by the instructors, Hinds said that the fires are not technically “knocked down” by trainees. Those who are using the proper techniques will see flames go down while those who aren’t will likely see flames getting bigger.

“The whole point is to teach them how to knock down a variety of fires,” he said. “We show them everything that can happen so they are prepared when they go out on actual emergencies.”