Hickory firefighters who needed to complete training have found themselves driving to Morganton or Gastonia to satisfy the requirements.
That will change soon. Three weeks ago, construction began on a new fire training building at the Catawba Valley Community College Public Safety Training Center off 21st Street Drive SE.
WHP Trainingtowers, a company which specializes in construction of fire training structures, is building the $500,000 facility. Hickory Fire Chief Matt Hutchinson said the purchase of the new building came two years ago. Had they closed the deal today, the cost would have been nearly $200,000 higher, he said.
Hutchinson said the structure, which includes a four-story tower, can create artificial smoke and will include two burn areas.
Firefighters will be able to practice skills such as rappelling buildings and breaching rooftops. The structure will allow the department to simulate conditions from basement fires to balcony rescues.
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“We tried to look at every aspect of what we do and make sure this building can do it,” Hutchinson said. The center will also be open for use by other regional departments.
Hutchinson said there has long been discussion about creating a center like the one currently under construction, with a committee formed to look into building one in the 1980s.
The center will help the city save on fuel costs for the travel out of Hickory and on overtime pay that comes with making sure the department has the staffing it needs while some firefighters are away at training, Hutchinson said.
He said those costs can add up since firefighters are required to do at least 200 hours of training each year.
“It’s always been needed,” Hutchinson said. “It’s been shown as a need and we’re just fortunate to be able to do it today.”
He estimated the center will be finished within the next month to six weeks. The training site could be in use for up to 25 years, Hutchinson said.
Kevin Griffin is the city of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.