For the first time in 40 years, the Indianapolis Fire Department — the largest fire department in the state — could have its own training facility.
The $15 million bond issue given initial approval by the city Wednesday paves the way for IFD firefighters to train close to home, and for a potential income source — if the fire chief decides to charge other departments to use it.
Indy’s firefighters have trekked out to other facilities for training, currently leasing space at the Emergency Services Education Center — a 20-minute drive from the department’s downtown headquarters — to meet training hour requirements. They also use three meeting rooms at the downtown headquarters to train. The move to the Twin Aire neighborhood would cut travel time in half.
In front of a crowd of nearly 20 firefighters, Fire Chief Ernest Malone told the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee that the department has trained more than 1,000 firefighters since 1984 — nearly a third of them coming since 2014 — without using its own training facility.
The last class to train in IFD’s facility on Michigan Street was Recruit Class 54 in November 1980.
What the new site will look like
The site for the new facility rests just south of planned development of the Community Justice Center on the Pleasant Run Crossing site, which will eventually house criminal and civil courts, the sheriff’s office, and a jail and assessment center.
The fire training facility would be a two-story building with classrooms, a computer lab, a fitness room, a kitchen and more. The facility would also include a three-story live burn structure and a fire training tower.
Malone said they would consider charging other fire departments to use the facility on a case-by-case basis. Some fire departments could possibly use the facility for free, Malone said, since IFD has been supported for the last 40 years by neighboring facilities, including Pike Township and Lawrence. At those facilities, Malone said, IFD was not charged for every use.
That said, “We need to get it built first,” Malone said.
As for why now is the time to build the facility, Malone said everything has just lined up.
“I believe we have the right people in this room, the right people in this building, the right people in this community to get this project done now,” Malone said.
Councillor Joseph Simpson said during the hearing that he watched firefighter recruits train on the side of a dusty road. Simpson said it was clear that a facility is needed.
Making a community impact
Hank Harris, president of Indianapolis Professional Firefighters Local 416, said he once trained in an abandoned structure.
“To actually have a training facility, state of the art, is big for our people,” Harris, a 14-year veteran of the department, said. “This facility will address our immediate need, while still being able to evolve.”
Harris said the development will have a positive impact on the community as well. Children growing up in the area, he said, will be able to see recruits working out on the nearby trails.
Those kids will “be able to say, ‘I can be them, I can do that,'” Harris said. He also said the firefighters will make an economic impact in the southeast side Twin Aire neighborhood while going to lunch or grabbing Gatorade. “While it’s big for us, it’s also big for the community.”
The development is just the first phase in what could be a multi-stage development, but Malone said they are leaving the future open and feel confident the $15 million in bonds will be enough to complete the first phase. Taxes won’t go up as a result of the development.
But construction won’t start just yet. The $15 million proposal faces another challenge: afull council vote to approve the debt service in October.