Beginning in August, Northeast Ohio firefighters and law enforcers will have a "one-stop shop" at Cuyahoga Community College
. The sprawling facility, dubbed the Public Safety Training Center of Excellence, is expected to meet the education needs of both green recruits and grizzled first responders alike.
Tri-C broke ground on the $10.1 million, 10-acre center last November at its Western Campus on Pleasant Valley Road in Parma. When it opens for fall semester, the facility will do double duty, serving emergency services personnel from 12 counties while training Tri-C fire and police academy cadets, says Anthony Jackson, director of the college's Public Safety Institute
As the center meets state-mandated departmental continuing education requirements, Ohio has contributed nearly $9 million of the project's cost through a program to fund capital improvements at two- and four-year colleges and universities.
The center is in part an expansion of the school's fire training now taking place in Parma, notes Jackson. A daytime police academy will run operations out of the new location once construction is complete.
Keeping it Real
A former elementary school on site will be renovated to include large classrooms, an indoor shooting range and locker rooms. Hands-on training will be the emphasis of a brand new two-story structure, where regional safety workers and recruits will have 4,000 square feet of space in which to learn the techniques that might one day save lives.
Firefighters will practice fighting live blazes in a "burn building," says Jackson. They will run down smoke-choked hallways and battle conflagrations in cars and dumpsters, just as they would in uncontrolled, real-life situations where split-second decisions are the norm.
"These are all scenarios that can happen at any given time," Jackson says. "The flames from our training props can get pretty high."
The planned indoor gun range has similar high-tech aspirations, notes Jackson. Officers will practice their shooting in a variety of conditions, with the attendant noise and lighting situations a cop would find on the street.
Meanwhile, police and fire newbies and veterans will have a 180-foot-by-600-foot paved area installed to practice defensive and pursuit-driving techniques. An outdoor retention pond will teach water-rescue training, with ice-rescue instruction planned for the colder months. The center's other outdoor components will include a military-style fitness trail and underground trenches to educate trainees how to maneuver in confined areas.
An Education Magnet
Tri-C's safety personnel academies have been operating for decades. Expanding their reach was overdue not just for the college, but for a region lacking comprehensive police and fire training, says Jackson. The institute director expects the new center to attract upwards of 400 police and fire departments from a dozen Northeast Ohio counties, a collective making up about a quarter of the state's emergency workers.
Lacking a local training facility, these officers are sent to centers in Columbus or Toledo, a budgetary luxury for many departments. "When money's tight, training is often the first thing to get cut," says Jackson. "Now there's a central location available that has decades of success."
The need for an all-encompassing training facility reflects a shift into ongoing education that hasn't always been part of safety personnel work, he says. When Jackson walked the Cleveland police beat in the 1970s, the job of keeping the peace was fairly straightforward.
"You mostly just needed physical power for people to listen to you," says Jackson, who spent 40 years on the force, a span over which much has changed in how police officers treat their role within the community.
"It's not just about making arrests anymore," he says. "You're expected to wear the hat of a social worker, priest and policeman. You have to be what's necessary at that very moment."
Building an educated police officer or fireman can only be a boon for the area, Jackson says. Over 300 trainees have graduated from Tri-C's academies in the last three years. A large-scale regional facility will ensure these cadets are trained for the real world, while keeping the door open when they or their colleagues need further instruction.
"This [center] is great for the college and a bigger asset for local departments," says Jackson. "Our job is to be part of the solution, not the problem."
Photos Bob Perkoski