Funds for fire school in Beacon Falls on bonding list

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State funds to build the Valley Fire Chiefs Training School in the Pinesbridge Commerce Park in Beacon Falls are on the Bond Commission’s agenda. –LARAINE WESCHLER

BEACON FALLS — In 2000, the Valley’s fire training school was closed after the property in Derby was declared a brownfield. Now, some 12 years later, a fire training school in the Valley is set to return in Beacon Falls.

Last month, Gov. Dannel Malloy included $26.2 million in bonding for fire schools. The money will go toward five of the state’s 10 regional fire training schools, including $8 million earmarked for the Valley Fire Chiefs Training School to be built in the Pinesbridge Commerce Park in Beacon Falls.

Nine Valley towns — Beacon Falls, Ansonia, Seymour, Shelton, Derby, Orange, Woodbridge, Oxford, and Bethany — would send firefighters to the school for training.

“No one is more sensitive to the state’s precarious fiscal condition than I am, yet this investment in public safety preparedness will pay for itself in terms of readiness for fire departments throughout the region, and in terms of a recruitment tool for future firefighters,” said state Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-17), whose district includes Beacon Falls, in a prepared statement. “I’m delighted by the prospects for this funding, and I’m grateful to Gov. Malloy for including this item in his proposed budget adjustments.”

Malloy’s bonding list is waiting approval of the State Bond Commission, but it has bipartisan support in the legislature, and is expected to be approved.

“It was a big step in a long journey,” said Charles Stankye Jr., treasurer of the Valley Regional Fire Chiefs Training School, about the money being put on the list.

The search for a new site for the Valley school began years ago, eventually leading to Beacon Falls. In 2007, state officials driving through the commerce park spotted four lots for sale. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 when funding became available and the lots, 11 acres in all, were sold to the state for $862,500.

The plan to build the school in the commerce park was met with a variety of concerns from town residents, including the smoke that would come from the school during training exercises, the loss of tax revenue due to the state owning the land, and the potential loss of tax revenue if other companies didn’t want to relocate or build in the commerce park next to the school.

With the plan moving forward, First Selectman Gerard Smith said it doesn’t make sense to fight the school anymore.

“We knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when it’s funded,” Smith said.

Rather than fight the school, Smith said the town needs to figure out how to work together with the state to make the school a benefit for the town. Smith said he would like to find businesses which compliment the fire school, to go into the commerce park.

Without a school in the Valley, volunteer firefighters from Beacon Falls go to either Wolcott or Fairfield for training, said Jeremy Rodorigo, spokesman for Beacon Hose Company No. 1.

“They’re very gracious letting us jump in. … There’s only so many schools and a lot of firefighters out there,” Rodorigo said.

When a firefighter joins the company, Rodorigo explained, he or she has to take the Firefighter 1 class, an initial basic course that takes 150 hours in order to be certified. The course includes classroom work as well as live training in a burn building.

After certification, there are advanced and specialized courses available to firefighters, such as classes on operating ladders and pump trucks, Rodorigo said.

“I anticipate that all of these types of programs will be offered and more,” Rodorigo said about the school.

Fire training schools typically have classrooms, a four- to five-story training tower, a Class A burning building, and an outdoor area for training exercises, explained Jeffrey Morrissette, state fire administrator with the state’s Commission on Fire Prevention and Control.

Rodorigo said it’s a good thing for Beacon Hose Company No. 1 to have a school back in the Valley, no matter where it goes.

“We look forward to having a school in the Valley, and it’s a little extra perk that it’s in Beacon Falls,” Rodorigo said.

Although the money is on the commission’s agenda and anticipated to be approved, there is no firm timetable as to when the school in Beacon Falls will be built.

Morrissette said currently there is no order of priority.  Every school on the list, he said, feels they should be first and each has an argument for being a high priority.

“They’ve all had some level of disruption,” Morrissette said.

Morrissette said he’s always been told the state can do two schools a year. Ultimately, he said, the decision is up to the Department of Construction Services.

Even if the funding moves forward, Morrissette said, there are still a lot of factors that will determine when and what schools are built, including whether the funds are released all at once or in portions over time. He said under the most optimistic plan it would still take two years before a shovel is in the ground.

“There’s a lot of factors that come into play,” Morrissette said.

The Republican American contributed to this article.