By BECKY KISER
Firefighters in Ellis County will have their own training facility in the near future. The closest such center is in Great Bend.
The location became available as the city of Hays began renovation of the wastewater treatment plant near the former Frank Stramel Softball Fields, Old U.S. Highway 40 and Chetolah Creek. “We’ve had to reduce some of the ball diamonds that were in that area,” Asst. City Manager Jacob Wood said, “and have set some of that property aside for a fire training facility.”
The city fire department is working in cooperation with the county fire department to create a joint training facility that will also be used by Ellis and Victoria fire departments.
Hays Fire Chief Gary Brown updated city commissioners Thursday about the project. It’s something he’s wanted to do for many years.
“This year we’re looking at installing a water main and fire hydrants out there. The Water Resources Department will do that,” Brown said.
The Hays Fire Department has some “seed money” in its budget that could be used for a low-cost training tower but they have a plan for purchasing a better quality tower.
Hays Deputy Chief Ryan Hagans and Ellis County Fire Chief Darin Myers are working together on a grant application to the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan, for $300,000.
The grant would be used to fund a training tower made of engineered steel shipping containers, a concrete pad, and a classroom.
“You can’t just stack up shipping containers and say ‘we’re good.’ They have to be engineered because people will use it for rope rescue. There’s going to be loads put on it, and wind. It has to be done right.
“We have a small breathing apparatus maze that we’ve built in the former concessions building. The area will be big enough for training in vehicle rescue and for car and dumpster fires. This will really enhance our training program,” Brown told the commission. Currently, firefighters must go off-site or out of town for multi-level fire training or high-angle rescue experience.
City Commissioner Sandy Jacobs, executive director of the Hays-based Heartland Community Foundation offered assistance in the grant application process. She also suggested the application include letters of support from area governing bodies.
The project work will be done in several phases.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Wood said. “Chief Brown has wanted to do this for a really long time and this year we have a little bit of money in the budget to kind of get things started.”
Most communities have fire training facilities, according to Brown. During the recent Public Fire Protection Reclassification for Hays, the city earned just 13 percent of the possible credit in that category.