Ushering in local 'burn building'

January 9, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

Two decades after it first went on the drawing board, ground was broken Thursday for a local training facility for fire and rescue workers.  Several local and state officials, as well as members of The Harvest Foundation and contractors, were on hand for the event.

"This is a great day in the history of Martinsville and Henry County fire services," Henry County Director of Public Safety Steve Eanes said in his opening remarks.

The 22-foot-by-60-foot "burn building" began as a dream in 1984, Eanes said. Soon to be a reality, it will be built in three sections, with a total of 3,124 square feet, including two floors in the main section and three floors in the stairwell or tower.  The facility will cost $575,000, with $325,000 coming from the state Fire Services Board and $250,000 from a grant by The Harvest Foundation, which invests and distributes proceeds of the sale of Memorial Health Systems.

"We are delighted to be here to participate," said Donald Hodges, president of the foundation board. Two key factors made funding the project attractive to the foundation.

The first is "the strong rationale of safety workers risking their lives," Hodges said, adding that the second attraction is the public/private partnership. The Virginia Department of Fire Programs will administer the fire board's $325,000, according to Buddy Hyde, chief deputy director of the department.  He said burn buildings such as the one to be built here are the future of fire services training, in part because the training can go "hand in hand with homeland security" programs.

Eanes previously was a mentor to Phil Paquette, now chairman of the Virginia Fire Services Board. Other speakers included David Davis, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors; M. Gene Teague, Martinsville mayor, and Jerry Brock, city fire chief. Construction of the burn building is expected to begin later this month at the former DuPont plant site.

Quality Construction of Danville will do site preparation and erect the metal and steel building,
Eanes said. The building itself will be constructed by Nielsen Construction of Racine, Wis., and shipped March 12 to Martinsville in sections, using at least five tractor-trailer trucks, he added. Burning systems and training simulators will be provided by ICS International Code Services, Inc., in Ontario, Canada, Eanes said.

"The operational burner systems will come in during the last two weeks of construction and that will be followed by a week of training for our staff," he said. The facility is expected to be operating by the end of May.

Virtually all of the floorspace will be dedicated to training, with "the one-story section used for burning and the 21/2-story section will be set up with different training props. There will also be a burn room on the second floor," Eanes said.

Dimensions of the second story are 22 feet by 46 feet. In addition, a five-story tower situated on one end of the building will house floors three through five. Those floors measure 12 feet by 22 feet each, he said.

The tower will be used for "rope work, rope rescue and rappelling," Eanes said.

There is no set number of rooms in the tower because many of the partitions will be moveable and allow for changes in the configuration of training spaces. However, some spaces are earmarked for specific uses. The attic and another large room will be set up with industrial props to help emergency workers train for industrial disasters. There also will be two burning rooms - a large one and a smaller one, Eanes said. The roof of the building also will be used for various training exercises, he added.

Once completed, the multi-purpose building also may be used by law enforcement personnel to train for search missions and tactical work, he added. "Some Patrick County departments have expressed an interest in using the facility. Franklin County has expressed an interest and some (departments) in
Pittsylvania County may" use the building, Eanes said.  Many training classes will be open to the entire region, he said.

"We are still trying to determine the cost (to outside departments), but this will not be a revenue
generating facility. We are trying to provide training expertise," Eanes said.

The facility has been on the drawing board since the 1980s at sites near Bassett Walker, Patrick Henry Community College, Bowles Industrial Park and off Fisher Street, near the old city garage, he said. Each of those projects was unsuccessful because "it cost too much at the time," Eanes said.


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