By LINDSAY OLIVIER
EXETER – Ten years ago, voters approved a $55 million public safety bond that included $6.4 million to build a new Rhode Island State Fire Academy on the old Ladd School site in Exeter. Now, almost two years after breaking ground, the first phase is complete and the school is open for business.
On April 28, both the Exeter and West Greenwich fire departments were the first companies to take part in live-burn courses.
The first phase included the construction of a live burn building and a storage facility. Phase two will be the construction of a 15,000 square-foot facility that will include numerous classrooms and offices. In the current state budget, $1.3 million is set aside for the second phase, with the same amount projected for next year’s budget.
That’s still not enough to complete the project, however, and according to Scott Kettelle, Chairman of the Fire Education, Training and Coordinating Board, alternative funding needs to be found.
“We’re working with the architects to see if we’ll have to downscale the plans for the second phase in order to afford it,” he said.
The academy’s training calendar is quickly filling up with area fire departments reserving space for training and education courses. Even though the second phase will include a classroom building, classes have been held in the apparatuses building. In addition to the Exeter site, the academy also uses some classroom space at the Cranston Street Armory building in Providence and a trailer for live burn training that travels around the state. The need for a new facility came because of a lack of classroom space and a desire for a better and more stable facility for training.
“We needed a more practical hands-on place where firefighters could do the appropriate training,” said Fire Academy Director Joe Castro. “That burn trailer wasn’t cutting it. This new facility is going to give firefighters real-life scenarios and will better prepare new recruits for what will come when they begin working.”
The 3,550 square-foot burn facility will allow firefighters to learn to repel off a building as well as train in forcible entry, ladder practices, ventilating roofs and search and rescue tactics. There’s a make-shift elevator shaft and two live burn rooms, with props to simulate real-life scenarios, such as a bedroom and kitchen scenario. Firefighters will also use a 10,000 square foot training pad for live outside fire training, extinguishing car fires and driver’s training.
Water used at the facility as part of the training practices will be reused as part of a self contained water system. Run-off water that’s used from training will be collected and deposited into an underground water storage tank.
Castro admits it’s been a struggle getting to this point and says that over the years, he thought this project would never come to fruition.
“This location was ideal, more for the fact that it was state-owned land,” he said. “If we had to purchase land ourselves, there would be no way we could have accomplished all we planned to. I’m pleased with how the construction is going and can’t wait for recruits to begin their training and education here as well as current firefighters to continue their learning.”
In March 2010, a committee was established to evaluate and revising the current Rhode Island Fire Academy Mission statement to meet today’s needs. Kettelle is eager to begin implementing what’s outlined in the plan.
In addition to Kettelle, who’s also a captain with the North Kingstown Fire Department, the strategic planning committee included Frank M. Brown, Fire Chief, Hopkins Hill Fire District; James Gumbley, Fire Chief, Cranston Fire Department; Peter F. Henrikson, Fire Chief, East Greenwich Fire District; Jeffery Lynch, Fire Chief, Portsmouth Fire Department; Robert Perry, Fire Chief, Union Fire District and Kevin Sullivan, Fire Chief, Warwick Fire Department.
Among the goals identified from the strategic plan are: the academy shall develop procedures on improving the program application process; develop a system of web-based programs; create new programs and classes; create an instructor development program; create public/private partnerships and develop new educational partnerships.
“I’m excited to get going on the second phase of this project,” Kettelle said. “I’m confident we’ll be able to find the rest of the funding needing to complete the construction and it’s our belief that we have the talent within our instructor cadre to provide some of the best training found anywhere in the country.”