Training center is right choice

November 16, 2012 

A new fire training center for York County will help improve fire protection throughout the county. The center is a better choice than spending $3.1 million in bond money for new fire substations in rural areas.

The county council last week gave unanimous approval to a final reading that earmarks $3.1 million for a new training center. The decision echoes the endorsement of county fire chiefs and the rural fire board, which oversees the county’s 17 rural fire departments and administers money allocated by the council.

That money had first been designated for building substations. But since 2008, when that plan was put in place, both county officials and members of the firefighting community have questioned whether the money could be put to better use on a centrally located fire training center.

The county has outgrown the current training center on Ogden Road. The buildings there are outdated and the offices can’t accommodate fire code inspectors and arson investigators who work there.

The county plans to build the new center off of McFarland Road, just south of York near a county landfill. The county already owns that property.

Initial estimates by a consulting firm on the cost of the new facility came in higher than expected. The consultants said the center, built in two phases, would cost around $6 million, including classrooms, a 12,500-square-foot shop, and a burn tower and building for simulating fires.

But the county is not committed to accepting that estimate, and local fire chiefs and county officials are looking at nearby fire centers and working with county engineers to find ways to pare the cost of the project. The county could reissue a call for proposals by the end of the year or early next year.

An adequate training center as well as a central place for fire officials to work and meet is essential to the county. The current center clearly does not meet the growing needs of county fire departments.

But while we endorse spending the bond money on the new center, we also acknowledge that new substations would be advantageous in many ways to the county.

First, they would bring fire protection closer to residents in the western part of the county. They also would substantially reduce the cost of insurance for homeowners who would be within five miles of a fire station once the substations were built. Those outside the five-mile perimeter of a substation pay nearly twice the amount those inside the circle do.

But critics note that many rural fire districts already have raised money themselves and used special tax dollars to build new substations. Using bond money to build substations in other areas would be unfair.

And in some cases the new substations would benefit only a few people in the sparsely populated areas of the county. The fire training center, by contrast, ultimately would benefit all residents.

More substations might be needed in the future, especially now that expansion of S.C. 5 has increased the potential for growth west of York. But for now, we think the council was right to make a new training center the top priority.

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