Tuesday, October 04, 2011

TOP STORY >> Public safety priority for city

Leader staff writer

About 40 Jacksonville residents and city officials gathered Tuesday afternoon to break ground for a much-anticipated new public-safety building on Marshall Road. The building will house a new police department, 911 center, a FEMA safe room and training classrooms. It will join an already existing police firing range, fire training grounds, the street department and recycling center there.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said of the $6 million, 37,000-square-foot facility, “This is a longtime coming. It is something the community can be proud of.”

The city is spending $3 million it saved and $2.5 million it borrowed to build the police department and fire/police training grounds. FEMA gave the city $500,000 to cover the cost of building a 3,000-square-foot saferoom, which will double as training classrooms with the use of temporary room dividers.

The total project will cost about $6 million. The city hopes the public-safety building will be completed within a year, but that depends on if the area experiences mild or inclement weather, Fletcher said.

The city will use a bond issue to pay off the $2.5 million loan. Some of the new tax revenue generated by the two miles along North Hwy. 67/167 recently annexed into Jacksonville will cover the debt. That revenue will also be used to provide the area with utilities and services.

Those corridor businesses bring in about $100 million a year in sales, which will mean more than $1 million in annual taxes for Jacksonville.

The property already features a new firing range for police, a paved lot for emergency vehicle driving practice, a burn tower for firefighter training, a new street department building and the Jacksonville Recycling Center.

The entire complex is located on the site of the Vertac plant that was shut down in 1987.

Fletcher said he wasn’t concerned about contamination because the 1998 cleanup of the site was done under careful scrutiny. The cleanup was paid for with $150 million from the federal Superfund program, which covered the destruction of thousands of contaminated barrels at the old chemical plant.


Jacksonville police started using the new firing range on the property a few weeks ago.

“It’s (the range) great. It’s so far advanced from what we’re used to. It’s something our officers have that they can be proud of for years to come,” Capt. Kenny Boyd said.

The two-acre range has moving and turning targets as well as a tactical side police can use to simulate what they encounter in the field.

The current police department building is about 60 years old and has had problems, such as a leaking roof, for years, Fletcher said.

One of the key rooms at the new headquarters will be the climate-controlled evidence storage. This will help police preserve what is needed to catch and convict criminals.

The city’s courthouse and jail cells will stay at their current location, 1412 W. Main St.

Operations could be moved into the new building as soon as next fall, Boyd said.

He added that the department purchased two 2011 Dodge Chargers and has some new officers. It usually tries to get five new vehicles, but was only able to afford two this year because of budget cuts.

Three officers recently graduated from the police academy. Three are in field training. Two recently enrolled at the academy. Field training is when academy graduates are paired up with another officer for 12 weeks before they work alone. When officers complete one year of service to a department, they become certified.


The main feature of the training grounds firefighters will use is a 3,004-square-foot burn tower. The department has not set the tower on fire yet, but being able to do so will make training more applicable in real-life situations.

“We didn’t have anything to do realistic training until we got this,” said Captain David Jones, a training/safety officer.

The tower is designed to contain blazes. It is also safe to set on fire because it is equipped with a sprinkler system and temperatures in the building can be monitored through 16 heat sensors.

There are four burn rooms on three floors. The rooms are lines with firebricks, the type of brick that is used to line fireplaces. Firebrick is heat-resistant and inexpensive to replace.

The heat sensors are connected to a temperature panel that tells fire department trainers how hot it is in each part of the building.

The top of the tower simulates a flat roof and a slanted, or pitched, roof. Trainees can also rappel on the side of the tower from a standpipe system similar to what businesses have.

Parking lots on each side were designed to resemble what a firefighter might see at an apartment complex or business.

Trainees can draw water from a large retention pond located near the tower. A small device that looks like a traffic signal displays a red light if they use too much water to put out the flames. The pond will also help the department test pump operations.

The fire department had been conducting training via dry runs on houses condemned by the city council. They couldn’t set those homes on fire because it was unsafe.

In addition to the tower, firefighters will have an area where they can practice putting out vehicle fires, extricating people from cars and rescuing victims from confined spaces.

The department plans to invite firefighters from other cities to the training grounds.

The tower will be dedicated to Kendall Snyder, a retired battalion chief. The plaque the department has ordered says the building is dedicated to him, “in gratitude of your inspiration, motivation, and dedication to the Jacksonville Fire Department. Without your efforts this training facility would not have been possible.”

Trainees have used a smoke machine in the tower. The machine can simulate zero visibility conditions. The smoke is not toxic and is one of several props firefighters will use in training.

The department has hired eight new firefighters since November 2010. Firefighters are certified as level one or two after spending eight weeks training at the Fire Academy in Camden. Then they have to be certified as an emergency medical technician. Then they complete a three-year apprenticeship program that includes driving, leadership and advanced firefighter techniques.

The department also hopes to start using the two new ambulances in the next two or three weeks. The new vehicles, which were ordered about nine months ago, will replace a 1996 model and a 2003 model.

The 2003 model will be used as a back up ambulance. Each ambulance cost about $150,000, a total of $305,000 for both.