Forces combine for fire training

COVINGTON - Newton County and the city of Covington are joining forces to build a new training facility for their respective fire departments.

Both the city and county have approved an intergovernmental agreement to share the cost for constructing and operating the facility, which will be located on Georgia Peach Avenue off Ga. Highway 142 near the Covington Municipal Airport.

The conceptual plan for the project has been completed, and turned over to the county purchasing department, which will send out a request for bidders, according to Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield.

The facility will include a four-story tower with stairs both inside and outside that will be used for rappelling and to practice entering and advancing hoses into a multi-story building. Firefighters will also get practice using ladder trucks and ground ladders.

A two-floor burn building will provide more practice extinguishing fires.

In addition, there will be a driving training course where firefighters can practice maneuvering fire trucks. That feature will be especially helpful to new recruits that may not be used to backing and turning the large vehicles, Satterfield said.

Also, the site will include a drafting pit. The department is regularly required to draft water out of an impoundment to test pumps for adequate flow. In the past, tests have been conducted at Lake Varner and City Pond, but algae and other materials sometimes clog the pumps and get on gauges, a problem that will be eliminated with the new drafting pit, which will have fresh water, Satterfield said.

A classroom and office for training staff completes the conceptual plan.

"In today's world, firefighters wear many hats. Fighting fires is a very small percentage of what we actually do. There's rescue, (handling) hazardous material, technical rescue where people are trapped in different predicaments, automobile extrication, emergency medical service, on and on and on," Satterfield said, adding that all these skills require training and certification.

Though the facility will primarily be used by Newton County and Covington firefighters, departments in other counties may use it for training as well, he said.

"We will utilize the facility a great deal of the time. I think if specialized courses or new mandates came out, we could teach those (to other departments) and charge tuition to help offset operating costs," he said.

Satterfield said $2 million is a conservative project cost estimate. The city and county will split that 50/50 and have equal ownership of the facility.

Operating costs will be split based on the number of full-time employees who use the facility. Initially, with 80 full-time employees, the county will be responsible for 59.26 percent of operating costs, leaving the city, with 55 employees, at 40.74 percent.

Construction could get underway by early winter, Satterfield said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.