HARWICH — The public safety facilities on Sisson Road may be the new location for the Barnstable County live burn training facility.
Selectmen on Monday night endorsed Fire Chief David LeBlanc collaborating with the county in establishing the training center at the rear of the fire department headquarters.
In a memorandum to selectmen, LeBlanc said the county’s center for public safety training is in a state of transition as it moves from the previous location off of Mary Dunn Road in Barnstable.
“Their long-term goal is to establish a permanent home and support both police and fire training on Cape Cod,” a need that is critical for both services, he wrote. “With the loss of the Barnstable facility, Cape fire departments have lost the ability to do live fire training. There are facilities off Cape, but the logistics to these prevent their use on a consistent basis.”
LeBlanc said the county was able to secure a $700,000 grant for a fixed live burn building, but without a permanent home, the future of the grant is uncertain. Phil Burt, director of the Barnstable County Center for Public Safety Training, has been looking for a department willing to partner with the county and host the facility.
“After some preliminary discussion with Phil and the various town departments having jurisdiction over this type of project, my plan is to continue to work with the county on a plan to host this facility behind headquarters,” LeBlanc said.
In a presentation to selectmen Monday night, LeBlanc described the type of facility the county would like to purchase and defined where it could go on the 3.63-acre site that includes both police and fire department facilities. There is adequate space for the burn building at the location, he added.
The fire department's training tower is currently located behind the public safety complex. The area is already used for some of the purposes the new facility would provide, LeBlanc said. The building would be a 24-foot-by-48-foot, three story structure.
The burn building would have internal movable walls to create different types of room configurations and fire conditions. The second and third stories are smaller and allow additional training experiences, such a rapelling down the outside from the third story.
The facility uses propane gas and theater- or concert-grade smoke, which is not toxic and does not carry beyond the building. There will be no chemical use and the only runoff from the building will be water, LeBlanc said.
Other Cape departments would have access and train at the facility, and county training programs would take place there as well. Harwich fire personnel would be able to use it at any time.
“I cannot emphasize how important this is to our fire department,” LeBlanc said. “As a department, we have gotten younger as the more senior members retire and a tremendous amount of experience has been lost. This is a fantastic opportunity to train all of our members, especially those newer to the service. Having the facility located here reduces overtime required for training and also allows for the shifts to train while on duty.”
The county fire training academy that operated in Barnstable was shuttered earlier this year after fluorinated chemicals found in firefighting foam were detected in the area's public water supply. The academy has been looking for a new home and has been considering a site at Joint Base Cape Cod. Concerns have been raised, however, about the distance Lower and Outer Cape fire department members would have to travel to attend the academy there. The closest other live burn facility is located in Carver, but LeBlanc said other departments are not allowed to conduct live burn training there.
While the county has been considering establishment of a Cape Cod Center for Pubic Safety Training, locating the live burn facility is time sensitive. LeBlanc said the $700,000 grant to construct the facility is in jeopardy if a location can't be found. There was support for having the facility in Harwich among staff in town departments, he said.
“There will be a zero impact on this community,” LeBlanc said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Selectman Michael MacAskill said. The board approved his motion to have LeBlanc collaborate with the county on establishing the training center, a good testament to how the board feels about the firefighters on the Cape, MacAskill said.
The next step, LeBlanc said, is to get town counsel and the county’s legal counsel together to draw up an inter municipal agreement.