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Planning group aids training center success

By Cristi Laquer
FireRescue1 Staff

Photo Interact Business Group
IBG wrote the plan for the Luzerne County Community College Regional Public Safety Training Institute, in Nanticoke, Pa., which serves a 10-county region.

Decisions about where to build, how much to build and what kinds of structures and classrooms are needed are not just training considerations. Economic and political factors can complicate matters, and even determine the success or failure of a facility.

The very first step is a detailed needs assessment in terms of what classes are needed, according to Bill Booth, president and CEO of The Interact Business Group, which writes plans for building public safety training structures.

"If you were going to start a new business, and you have to go to the bank to get a business loan, they'll want to know what it's going to cost, what you're going to sell at your business, and so on," Booth said.

Calif.-based IBG works with training officers and chiefs to write a plan they can present to legislators or use to write grant applications.

It can be difficult to bridge the gap between efficient, modern training and the legislative decisions that secure funding, Booth said. "Everyone knows firefighters need to be trained," he said, "but an elected official might say, ‘Why can't we do it the way we've been doing it?'"

"A lot of what we do is present to the businessmen in a perspective they can understand."

Combined facilities
Combined training centers, in which two different types of agencies, or two neighboring fire departments, share the cost of a new facility are becoming ever more common, Booth said.

For example, police and fire departments often end up competing for scarce funding and land resources. With many cities unable to afford two separate facilities, Booth said, building a joint facility can be a useful compromise, even though training needs may seem incompatible.

"Police want to be able to shoot and drive and firefighters want to put out fires and drive, so you can have a co-use driving area." Booth said. "Firemen need drill towers, and police or SWAT teams can use them for rappelling off the sides as well."

Classroom space is even simpler to share among different departments and agencies, but sharing agreements can also involve complicated business decisions. To mitigate these factors, Booth said, IBG's strategic plans often involve a ‘governance model,' which lays out how the use and operating cost of a new facility can be divided.

A plan of attack
Approaching a new training center without creating a plan in advance can lead to several mistakes that may make the project difficult to use.

One example is departments that settle for less than they really need, Booth said. "One thing we see is the department gets a piece of land donated or gets it on the cheap and it's three acres," he said "Well, what they really need is 10 acres, but you can't go back to city council and ask for more money once you have the land."

With a set plan that includes a needs assessment, departments can approach legislators or grant committees and ask for the land or funding they really need. "If you have a strong strategic plan, you can justify why you need the money or land, and you can prove it," Booth said.

On the web: Interact Business Group

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