County fire academy to expand

Wednesday, May30, 2007

By LISA GRZYBOSKI Courier-Post Staff

GLOUCESTER TWP. Nicholas Scardino values the Camden County Fire Academy.

When his firefighter recruits need basic training, that's where they're sent to get it. The same can be said of the veterans in the Haddon Heights Fire Department who require continuing education courses. "We take advantage of the academy every chance we get," said Scardino, the borough's fire chief. Haddon Heights isn't alone.

In 2006, the academy instructed approximately 8,200 firefighters, emergency medical technicians and even some police. It also served 4,200 private-sector employees who work for such companies as Valero Energy Corp., Tastykake and PSE&G. "The current facility is too small to handle the number of people that go through there every year," said Jack Mattera, the deputy public safety director in Pennsauken. "They've always had the instructors and the demand, but they didn't have the space." That's changing.

Work on a 37,000-square-foot fire-education building, designed by Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel, is now under way at the county's Lakeland Complex in Gloucester Township. D'Astuto Construction Inc. of Bellmawr has removed trees and is grading the site in preparation for the one-story building, which is slated for completion next May.

The academy's new addition will cost nearly $10 million to construct, said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli. The county is contributing $6 million, and another $3.5 million is coming from a Casino Reinvestment Development Authority grant, he said.

The building will include a 190-seat amphitheater, five classrooms, a computer lab, locker rooms and a practical room that's large enough to handle training exercises so people can work indoors during inclement weather, said Paul Sandrock, deputy chief of the county's fire marshal's office. The education facility will join the existing burn building, smoke house, training maze and confined space simulators. Expands classes. "We'll now be able to add classes in the programs we have and offer new courses," Sandrock said.

The fire academy has more than 200 programs that range from the basic Firefighter I class all recruits are required to take to the more advanced terrorism-response, hazardous-materials and vehicle-extraction training. The types of courses it will add include firefighter self-rescue, advanced confined-space rescue, advanced building-collapse training and management training, Sandrock said.

There's also talk of putting a driving simulator there to teach first responders how to react to situations they might encounter while driving a fire truck, ambulance or police car to an emergency, said Chief Robert Giorgio of the Cherry Hill Fire Department. Four year project

The project has been four years in the making, said Mike Hall, president of the Camden County Fire Chiefs and Fire Officers Association. During the planning process, a group of the county's first responders visited fire academies in Burlington, Atlantic and Middlesex counties to get ideas, Hall said.

The county freeholders want the fire academy to become self-sustaining, meaning the revenue it generates should be enough to pay for operational costs so county taxpayers don't have to pay. To achieve that goal, the county plans to market the academy more in the private sector, particularly among commercial and industrial companies, Cappelli said. Part-time instructors

The fire academy will also likely continue its policy of using mostly part-time instructors, Sandrock said. Many of the instructors are career and volunteer first responders who teach courses in their spare time, he said.

"We have so much talent in this region that we can draw from," Sandrock said.
The new building will enhance what first responders can do countywide, Giorgio said.
"You've got to give them a lot of credit. They've done a lot with a little for a long time," Giorgio said


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