BY JEREMY SHERE
Being a firefighter or police officer is an exciting but dangerous job. Fortunately, since 2008 the men and women in Bloomington’s fire and police departments have had the benefit of honing their skills at the Public Safety Training Center on South Walnut.
“It’s a total game changer,” says fireman and Battalion Chief of Training Rob Stumpf. “We used to have to train in city parks. Now we can really focus on training for all aspects of the job.”
The center consists of a four-story “burn facility,” a classroom, and a state-of-the-art indoor firing range. Essentially a fireproof, corrugated-metal tower, the burn facility has eight “burn rooms” where recruits and veteran firefighters train by battling live fires set inside the structure.
“It’s every bit as hot, smoky, and dangerous as a real fire—certainly hot enough to kill you,” says Stumpf. Firefighters, who typically train between 200 to 400 hours per year at the center, practice controlling and putting out fires, locating and rescuing victims (going to the aid of Rescue Randys, life-size mannequins weighing up to 180 pounds), running hose lines up stairs, and doing rope-rescue training.
Housed in a separate building, the 25-yard, 12-lane firing range is a valuable addition to the Bloomington police department, says Sergeant Mick Williams. “You can never have too much training.” Before the range was built, Bloomington officers used to take target practice only a few times a year at facilities in nearby counties. “Firing a weapon is a complex, perishable motor skill that’s easily lost if it’s not reinforced often,” says Williams.
The computerized range features a target control system that not only tests accuracy but also features “bad guy” and “good guy” targets to train officers to make split-second decisions in the field.
Beyond providing local firefighters and police officers with hundreds of hours of training, an additional benefit of the Public Safety Training Center is its contribution to economic vitality. The facility has hosted a “fire school” for more than 250 firefighters from throughout the Midwest, a national Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) training seminar, a police executive leadership academy, and many other events—all of which generate business for local hotels and restaurants. In fact, the center is poised to be a premier regional training facility.
For Stumpf and Williams, though, the center’s most important purpose is in providing opportunities for top-shelf training. “We have great professional firefighter and law enforcement organizations in Bloomington,” Williams says, “but it’s hard to maintain that professionalism without this kind of facility.”