PIQUA — The old Water Treatment Plant is expected to get new life and a new purpose this year, training firefighters after being decommissioned last year.
The planning process to turn the old plant into a regional training facility for firefighters began when the city decided to build a new Water Treatment Plant at a different location within city limits rather than demolishing their old water plant, saving the city the cost of demolishing the structure and opening up the question of what to do with it once it was vacated.
Fire Chief Brent Pohlschneider of the Piqua Fire Department said that Captain Tim Risner and firefighter-paramedic Eric Wood approached him with the idea of holding trainings there and even connecting with the State Fire School at Bowling Green State University.
“We look for old structures to do training and such,” Pohlschneider said.
The city reached out to the State Fire School at BGSU about two years ago to gauge their interest and start the planning process for this facility. Earlier this year, the Piqua City Commission authorized City Manager Gary Huff to enter the city into a memorandum of understanding with BGSU to hold courses at the site, such as week-long certification courses like their Certified Rescue Tech series. While BGSU would be able to use the facility, the city will still own and maintain the property as well as utilize it for their own training purposes.
“It’s still a city of Piqua-controlled facility,” Economic Development Director Justin Sommer said.
The training facility would include classrooms, a burn building, a tower to practice on, a water rescue practice site, and more. Firefighters could have hands-on training for rope rescue tactics, confined space situations, trench rescue and evacuation, arson investigation classes, and more.
“There’s a bigger demand for it,” Program Director Kerry Gonzalez of the State Fire School at BGSU said about fire and technical training. “Just by nature, firefighters in the state of Ohio have been training more.”
Their plans for how they might possibly use the facility are still in the development phase right now.
“It could be used for technical rescue,” Gonzalez said, adding it was a lot of space with a lot of possibilities. Technical rescue is anything but fire, Gonzalez said.
While BGSU may seem like a bit of a drive from this training facility, the school has other training facilities located in Dublin in Washington Township and also in Cincinnati, so Piqua’s training facility may be the closest to the school’s campus. Having multiple training facilities in different locations also gives the school the opportunity to reach more people nearby within those communities for week-long certification courses, like bringing training opportunities right to Piqua and Miami County agencies.
Sommer said that one of those courses could bring around 500 firefighters at a time into the area. Having a couple of those trainings a couple of times a year at Piqua’s training facility will have an economic impact in the community, Sommer said.
While BGSU is the city’s main partner right now in terms of who else may use the training facility, there is still the possibility sharing the benefit of that facility. Sommer discussed the possibility of manufacturers and vendors who make and supply equipment to fire departments to test out there products at the regional training facility. Other manufacturing facilities with their own fire brigades on site could also train at the site.
“They need updates on their training as much as anybody else,” Pohlschneider said.
The city could also reach out to other agencies in the county to use the site for practice for their own needs, like the Miami County Hazardous Materials Response Team.
“I have six members who are active with the Miami County Hazmat Team,” Pohlschneider said.
Another advantage is the city hopes this will help Pohlschneider recruit firefighters for the department, as Sommer said they will have “the ability to get cutting-edge training in our backyard.” Piqua firefighters who train with the State Fire School at BGSU can also bring that training internally to the department.
“That’s invaluable,” Pohlschneider said. “Not many departments have that opportunity.”
The facility was vacated last year, and the fire department held test burns at the site at the end of January. Sommer said that the city has all of the environmental permits necessary to conduct this type of training. As the weather gets warmer, the fire department plans to use the site more often. Training courses may also start being held at the facility in the fall.
“This is what we planned to do in our development plans — put old buildings into re-use,” Sommer said. “(Pohlschneider’s) staff provided a great idea, and we’ve been able to bring that forward. It’s somewhat bittersweet to see a building go vacant, but I see that as an opportunity to bring new life into it. Whenever possible, that’s what we do.”
“And firefighters love old buildings to train in, so it’s perfect for us,” Pohlschneider said.
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