Some local fire departments and education institutions are in the early stages of plan for a regional public safety training center.
The Idaho Falls Fire Department is taking the lead on the idea. Idaho Falls fire officials met with College of Eastern Idaho representatives in August, and a larger stakeholders' meeting is planned for Oct. 16, also involving, among others, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, the city of Idaho Falls and the Idaho National Laboratory, the city of Blackfoot and Madison County fire departments.
"The goal is to get some common vision on what we could have for a fire academy, training center and academic institution," Idaho Falls Fire Chief Dave Hanneman wrote in a staff report last week.
The idea is very preliminary at this point, said fire department spokeswoman Kerry Hammon. She said it could be years before any training center is completed However, the idea is to create a facility in eastern Idaho to train both current firefighters and people looking to become firefighters. Currently, Hanneman said, fire departments in this area have to hire firefighters and then train them after, which takes longer and costs more.
“Part of the advantage to this is we don’t have a regional or a statewide training center or academy in Idaho,” Hanneman said. “So one aspect is to have a fire academy there, where potential firefighters coming out of high school could go to learn to become a firefighter, and we could hire from this pool.”
Having a training center also would provide a pathway for people who are becoming firefighters to also get an academic education, he said.
“They can go from this to the community college (or) on to a university,” he said.
And, he said, a new facility would be a place where “our current firefighters can get advanced-level training with proper props and classroom opportunities.”
Idaho Falls firefighters train now at a facility off of Foote Drive, near Idaho Falls Regional Airport, that was donated to the department for $10 in 1963. It consists of a concrete tower that was built in 1966 and which Hanneman said doesn't accommodate their training now, a natural gas fire area to practice putting out fires and mock homes for firefighters to practice. Sometimes, Idaho Falls firefighters also train in old buildings in town that the owners donate to use before tearing them down. They have also used the former Dr. Slaughter’s House of Terror haunted house for training in the past.
"We use whatever training facilities we have currently, but if we had more, we could do more," Hammon said.
If a shared vision comes out of October’s meeting, Hanneman said the next step will be to start to work on an implementation plan and explore the availability of funding.