All Together Now
Wisconsin College Places Public Safety Training Under One Roof
When Fox Valley Technical College scheduled a $66.5 million bond issue for an April 2012 vote, its fate was not at all certain.
True, college long had close ties to its community, and this would be the first expansion of the college in 14 years. There was a demonstrated need for workforce development in emerging fields, such as allied health, public safety and law enforcement.
But times were tough. The Great Recession had exacted a heavy toll. Tax cut fervor was spreading. Asking voters to borrow $66.5 million, no matter how justified in the minds of college leaders, seemed like a tough sell.
The worries were misplaced. Voters in nine counties approved the bond issue by a 2-to-1 margin, supporting the college’s central premise: that expanding the college was critical to building the local workforce.
Now, three years later, the college is fully realizing the result of the bond issue: a $35 million Public Safety Training Center, a sprawling, 75-acre complex on the grounds of an airport that takes a novel approach to the training for first responders.
The center places several specialized public safety disciplines under a single training umbrella, allowing public safety providers who likely would be working together in an emergency to also train together. The center opened in January, and will officially be dedicated in May.
“What led to this project was our need for a training facility where our students could get as realistic an experience as possible,” said college President Susan May.
“And we saw an opportunity to put all of this under one roof. We hope that this facility will give first responders the opportunity for cross-training.”
The bond issue also funded the college’s Agricultural Center and a new Health Simulation Center, a simulated hospital complete with simulated emergency room and hightech manikins, allowing aspiring health workers to practice their craft in a controlled setting.
But the centerpiece of the expansion efforts is the Public Safety Training Center, which is attracting notice from around the country. More than 3,000 people have toured the center since it opened its doors in January, said Jeremy Hansen, associate dean of the college’s Public Safety Division. Public safety officers from around the state have already conducted training exercises there. The Milwaukee Field Office of the FBI plans to use the center for firearms and tactical training, building on an existing relationship. The college reports than one aspiring firefighter moved her family from California to Wisconsin so she could study at Fox Valley.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Hansen said. “When people see it, they say ‘wow!’ We have the ability to create every single scenario in a realistic setting. People are impressed because the scenarios are actual.”
Community colleges have long been at the forefront of training first responders, and dozens have public safety training centers. The involvement of community colleges intensified after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. According the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of the nation’s firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians are credentialed by community colleges, as are 60 percent of nurses. Growing numbers of colleges now offer cybersecurity training at the degree and certificate levels.
The colleges typically train both seasoned professionals and those seeking their first job in the field. The programs are rooted in the deep ties the colleges have with their communities. Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., for example, opened a 100,000 square-foot facility in 2001. The county’s Office for Emergency Preparedness is located inside the center, as is the Rochester Fire Department Training Division and maintenance garage.
Fox Valley’s center is the newest and biggest, and for the college, it was a natural step. For two decades it has been a national leader in training related to missing persons and internet crimes against children. Law enforcement and public safety officials from all 50 states have received training through the college’s AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program.
Hansen has been planning the center since 2005. Through the National Fire Academy, he polled 104 training officers from around the country on their training needs and desires. They stressed that first responders from different disciplines needed to train together. Based on their input, Hansen helped design a center that includes:
• “River City,” a simulated village containing streets, intersections, and residential and commercial buildings. Buildings include a one-story residence with a full basement, a two-story house, a branch bank, a hotel/motel and bar, and a gas station. The structures can be used by fire, law enforcement, hazardous materials, and emergency medical agencies for simulated incidents.
• A train derailment scenario consisting of 150 foot of track, a railroad crossing, and three tank cars. One of the tank cars sits upright while other two are configured as they might be found during an actual incident. The cars can be piped to leak water and high pressure air, simulating a hazardous material release.
• A six-story Fire Training Burn Building/Tower. The venue presents several elevations, including a two-story apartment building, a two-story residential home with attached garage, a commercial structure with a flat roof and a six-story apartment building. Eight burnable rooms are scattered throughout the structure. There’s a six-story elevator shaft with an elevator stuck between floors.
• A decommissioned Boeing 727, donated by FedEx, which offers numerous training opportunities. It’s configured for passengers in the front half and for cargo in the back. It can be used fro the training of air marshals, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police dog handlers. The aircraft can also can be used by airport rescue to practice tactical approaches and water and foam application.
• An emergency vehicle operations course that includes a 5/8 mile track and a skills pad for various training maneuvers such as straight-line backing and serpentine driving. The course is designed to teach safe driving and maneuvering of police, fire, and emergency medical vehicles, emergency maneuvers, skids and off-road recovery and pursuit driving and other operations. The skills pad is rated for a 120,000-pound vehicle.
• A 20-foot-deep pond for training in water drafting and water rescue. Five hydrants on either side of the pond allow motor pump operator training. Divers can practice rescue and recovery techniques using the two platforms at the bottom of the pond. Scenarios that can be created water rescue, ice water rescue and booming to contain a hazardous materials spill.
• A classroom building that has 15 smart classrooms, a computer lab with 40 work stations and a multipurpose room that can accommodate more than 200 people. An adjacent catering kitchen can serve meals in the multipurpose room.
• A state-of-the art forensics lab, two indoor shooting ranges and four outdoor shooting ranges.
“What we’ve tried to create is a comprehensive facility for training for anything related to public safety,” Hansen said.
“When people can train in realistic settings, they won’t be surprised when they encounter the real thing.”