By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE October 24, 2006 Just a few years ago, these 10 acres sat quietly off White Lake Turnpike, frequented only by deer and raccoons.
They paid no heed to the Town of Bethel’s sale of the property to Sullivan County, but on Thursday, not even the wildlife could miss the dramatic new landscape.
Indeed, it’s the only place in the county where people will routinely and legally start fires.
More than 50 officials, firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel converged on the new Sullivan County Fire Training Facility last week for its official unveiling.
The facility has been in limited operation for the past three weeks, said Deputy Fire Coordinator for Administration Paul Hemmer, but Thursday offered everyone the chance to tour the two buildings on the now-open 10 acres.
Centrally located north of Kauneonga Lake less than half a mile off Route 55, the facility offers space for storage and training.
A 12-bay garage is now housing Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department and Dive Team equipment, from waverunners to response trucks to the county’s Mobile Command Center.
Across the crushed stone parking lot, a three-story structure looks like a home or restaurant on the outside, but inside it’s a sophisticated live-burn unit created by Fire Facilities.
In two rooms on two floors, fires can be created and controlled to give firefighters unsurpassed training opportunities. But it doesn’t stop there.
Other rooms simulate an attic or similar confined space; another has moveable walls to allow trainers to change the situation at will; and all are equipped with temperature monitoring and smoke distribution systems to ensure everything’s done right and safely.
Windows on every side can be opened or closed with metal doors, while a rooftop area offers practice for ladder truck and rappelling issues.
A pond and two dry hydrants are nearby as well.
“It can simulate most anything we want it to,” said Hemmer.
He should know as co-chair of the Fire Training Facility Committee (along with Jim Cavello), Hemmer sought the best facility $2.1 million could provide. About $1.2 million of that cost was paid for by a grant through NYS Senator John Bonacic, while another $100,000 came from the efforts of late Assemblyman Jake Gunther. The rest was funded by the county itself.
“The start of this was the folks in the volunteer emergency services sector,” said Legislature Chair Chris Cunningham to the crowd. “It’s your facility we were happy to make it a reality.”
“What you do in one day is more valuable than anything we do in bringing money to you,” added Bonacic.
Bethel Supervisor Harold Russell said the center should provide a “fantastic education” for local emergency workers, and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther called it “an awesome facility.”
Though currently only open for state fire instruction, Hemmer (who also serves as a member of the Fire Advisory Board) said local fire departments and other emergency organizations will soon be able to schedule their own training sessions there.
Sullivan County Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Martinkovic added that this is just Phase I. Phase II will add a classroom building (transferring classes from the Sullivan County Airport) and two simulators: one for electrical emergencies and one for natural gas situations.
Eventually, there’ll be a spot for vehicle extrication practice and possibly a new home for the county’s emergency command center, which right now is stationed at the nearby airport.
But there is one thing that won’t be moved a huge boulder crews excavated from the property.
Dubbed the “Bernie Rock,” it was so named in honor of county DPW Engineer Bernie Kozykowski, who is credited with firmly making sure every step of the construction followed every detail of the design.
The boulder sits near the garage and now features a crude stick figure outfitted in what else? a firefighting uniform.