A large patch of former dairy land in Gilbert is targeted to become the site of a state-of-the-art training center for town firefighters and police.
The Town Council last week approved a move to acquire 40 acres of land northwest of Lindsay and Germann roads to build the training facility.
Plans for the center include a simulated town for firefighters to “burn” and a road course for police to hone driving skills.
“It’s really going to be unlike anything else we have out here in the East Valley as far as the buildings and props, how it’s set up, and what it’s going to look like,” Gilbert Fire Department spokesman Rob Duggan said.
Gilbert doesn’t own the land yet. However, officials say the owner has indicated he’s willing to sell the parcel, estimated to cost $14 million.
If land is acquired, the facility could be completed in 2009.
The center would be used primarily by the fire department, which currently trains at facilities in Chandler and Mesa.
But scheduling training times for staff and new recruits at those centers has become increasingly difficult recently as the department continues to grow.
Gilbert’s fire department has tripled in size in the last six years, town spokesman Greg Svelund said. And facilities in Chandler and Mesa already train personnel from several other fire departments.
Gilbert recently hired more than a dozen firefighter recruits several months early to squeeze into an open training slot.
“Everyone is maxing out those facilities,” Duggan said. “They’ve been very supportive to help get everyone through. But we are getting so big now that they just can’t support what we need for academies and ongoing quarterly training.”
Gilbert has more than $29 million set aside for the project. However, the actual budget for the facility hasn’t been determined.
The fire department’s section of the training center would be set up to resemble a village, allowing firefighters to practice in a setting representative of Gilbert, fire officials said.
“We want to build a place that really answers the needs of our community,” Duggan said. “It’ll be set up like a little residential street, where we might have a one-story home and then, next door, a two-story house.”
There are also plans to construct a burn building representing a “big-box” store such as a Wal-Mart or Home Depot for crews to practice, he said.
Officials say the uniqueness of Gilbert’s plans would make it a hub for other departments’ training.
“The idea is to build something regional in nature that’s sort of a niche thing, where it’s not just the Gilbert firefighters that use it,” Svelund said.
The facility would also be used to train Queen Creek firefighters as the town launches its own fire department in 2009, fire officials said.
Police plan to use the facility primarily for classroom space and a five-acre driving course. The police department already has a shooting range in another part of town.
The department is eager to get a training facility nearby because officers currently must drive to west Phoenix to complete firearms certification every two years.
“It becomes a considerable undertaking when you have to schedule an entire department,” police Sgt. Mark Marino said.
Police also want to include driving simulators — vehicle cockpits surrounded by screens displaying a computer program that sets up various driving scenarios.