‘Like a shiny object’: Foundation laid for $1M firefighters’ training tower

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
With earth-moving equipment as a backdrop, Guilderland and Albany County officials pose with golden shovels as Dustin Reidy cuts the ribbon. From left are Councilwoman Amanda Beedle, county legislators Mickey Cleary and Jeff Perlee, Deputy Supervisor Christine Napierski, Legislator Reidy, Supervisor Peter Barber, Legislator Mark Grimm, Deputy County Executive Michael McLaughlin, Guilderland Chamber of Commerce Director Sandra Dollard, and Councilman Jacob Crawford.

GUILDERLAND — The earth-moving equipment was stilled as town and county officials gathered on the outskirts of the Northeastern Industrial Park on Thursday to pose with golden shovels and cut a ribbon for a million-dollar training center for volunteer firefighters.

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber thanked Steve Oliver, the town’s retired highway superintendent, for stopping his volunteer work laying a foundation for the training tower so the ceremony could commence.

“It’s a collective effort involving volunteers,” said Barber, “but also government support and really the support of our firefighters.”

Jahnke & Sons Construction, based in Missouri, will build the new metal facility next to the half-century-old masonry tower.

“That has served thousands of firefighters very well,” said Barber, noting the old tower will still be used for training.

David Messercola, who headed the committee of fire chiefs that worked “in lockstep” on getting the new tower, said the old building was condemned for fire training; firefighters haven’t been able to use it for a year, he said.

“We’re going to use it for rescues, high-rise evolutions, etcetera,” said Messercola, adding that two different types of training will be “going on simultaneously.”

To be a volunteer firefighter in New York, the state mandates over 100 hours of training. Guilderland firefighters have been training in Colonie.

For the last 10 years, local fire districts have been setting aside money for a new training center, Messercola said.

“We tried to get this accomplished for 10 years and we couldn’t,” he said.

He credited the town and the county for pitching in.

Deputy County Executive Michael McLaughlin, speaking on behalf of Executive Daniel McCoy, said, “The county executive has a long history of firefighting …. We were unaware of the issue. When it was brought to our attention, it was kind of like a shiny object. We had to assist in any way we can.”

The county contributed $500,000 from its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“It was a slow process but it really got accelerated when the county came through with a half-million-dollar ARPA grant,” said Barber, thanking the county legislators who were on hand for the ribbon-cutting.

“It serves not only the seven fire districts in our town but provides training for neighboring Hilltowns and whatnot,” said Barber.

“It’s a big project,” said Barber, noting, “all the fire districts contributed.”

The six Guilderland fire districts and the Knox Fire District contributed $25,000 each for a total of $175,000, with the remainder filled out by the town and by volunteer or cut-rate labor as well as donations of material, such as stone.

The new training center will be a single building with a four-story tower at one end, a two-story section with a pitched roof in the middle, and two burn rooms at the other end.

The four-story section is “very important for training in high-rise buildings, which are far more dominant on the east end of town,” Messercola told the Guilderland Town Board in September. The middle section replicates residential buildings, “the majority of what we deal with,” he said, and gives firefighters practice on pitched roofs.

The burn rooms are lined with material similar to that used on space shuttles for heat shielding, Messercola said “so you can create fires in these buildings that are contained within those rooms so you don’t damage the structure.”

The four-story tower is so firefighters can practice “high-rise rescues and firefighting techniques,” Barber said, while the two-story portion “will simulate a single-family home.”

Barber said the plan is to cut another ribbon this summer when the facility is opened.

“The most important thing,” he concluded, “is we want to make sure our firefighters get that training.”

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