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Local fire departments to build training facility
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The fire departments of Newton County and the city of Covington are collaborating together on a project to construct a joint Fire Training Facility which, once constructed, should result in improved insurance ratings for both departments.

The desired location of the training facility is on 14.9 acres east of Georgia Plating at the end of America Way. The land is in close proximity to the Covington Municipal Airport according to a memo on the matter from Covington City Manager Steve Horton.

"We do need a location that we can train in on our downtime and when we don't have a lot of calls going out," said Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield. "Our annual training requirements just get bigger and bigger."

 The new training facility is believed to be the best way to lower both the city and the county's Insurance Service Organization ratings. The city currently has a rating of '3' and the county has a rating of '6.' In addition to contributing to lower insurance payments for the city and the county, residents should also see their homeowner's insurance payments go down as a result of the improved ISO rating.

"We expect this training facility to pay for itself in reduced insurance payments," Satterfield said.

Satterfield said the training facility would be centered on a burn building and a training tower. The training tower would likely be four stories tall he said and would be set up for a variety of scenarios including training on the use of ladders, rope rescues and search and rescue. Satterfield also said there would likely be a maze with artificial smoke set up in the tower that firefighters could crawl through.

The burn building would be set up to allow for the setting of actual fires which the firefighters can practice putting out Satterfield said. In addition to the burn building and training tower, the site would also likely include a training classroom, a paved driving course for the training of fire truck drivers and a draft area for the testing of water pumps.

"We have to do it annually to certify that our pumps are working accurately and it's also a way to conserve water," Satterfield said of the draft area, adding that all of the water pumped into the draft would also be pumped back into the fire department's water tanks. "Currently we don't have that type of a facility, and we're at the mercy of the lakes and their levels."

Satterfield said the biggest hurdle the county and city had to overcome was finding a piece of property which both departments could agree on and which wouldn't be too far away from the Covington Fire Department's base of operations.

Satterfield said the county had originally budgeted $930,000 for the construction of the training facility. However, when the city decided to join the county in the project, that figure was bumped up to approximately $1.5 million to account for the larger size warranted by two departments sharing the same facility he said.

The city of Covington included $500,000 in its recently approved six-month budget for the training facility. The funds were included for design and construction costs.

Satterfield said the exact amount each department will contribute to the facility's construction is not yet known. The cost of maintenance of the facility once constructed will be shared between the city and the county he said.

"Both sides have had a very positive attitude about it," Satterfield said adding that by collaborating on the project, both departments would be saving money. "Percentages have to be worked out, but everyone is optimistic that can be done easily."

Satterfield said if the county and city's public works departments can contribute grading and paving services to the project site, the cost of the facility would also be lowered.

At a December Covington City Council meeting, Covington Fire Chief Don Floyd told the council that the training facility would likely be in use seven days a week. While the facility would save the two fire departments required training trips out of the county to other fire training facilities, Floyd said he did not see the training facility as a revenue generating tool since both departments will likely need to use it too much to allow for it to be rented out by other fire departments.

Satterfield said once the newest county fire station on Brown Bridge Road is completed, the county will be ready to move ahead with the planning process for the training facility. The Brown Bridge Road station is still in the design phase he said.

Satterfield said he hopes to see the training facility completed in 2008.

"I don't see a reason why that can't be accomplished unless there's some type of budgetary constraint," he said. "Everyone is ready for this."