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Bond Would Aid Emergency Responders

TUSLA, Okla. -- Almost 20 percent of Tulsa Community College's proposed $76 million bond issue would help pay for a regional fire and emergency response training center, which is expected to attract thousands of emergency responders from across the state.

Tulsa County residents will vote on the bond issue and an accompanying property tax increase Tuesday.

Local voters approved general obligation bonds in 2005 that are providing $13.98 million to the Tulsa Fire Department for the training center at TCC's Northeast Campus.

TCC researched emergency training needs and realized it could build on the fire department's plan and help create a regional center for training, available to fire departments and other emergency response agencies around Tulsa and the state, said Northeast Campus Provost Sandra Massey.

The TCC bonds would expand the fire department's plans to build a mock city where disasters -- burning buildings, homeland security situations, people caught in swiftly moving water and more -- could be safely simulated. The TCC money would pay for an education building where students at the center would take classes.

The center planned at TCC would be expensive but would be feasible with plenty of students training there, said Tommy Abercrombie, a Fort Worth firefighter and owner of Abercrombie Planning + Design, a consulting firm for public safety facilities.

The center will be similar to one in Tarrant County, Texas, where Tarrant County College had 400 students in related academic programs before the center opened and, with the addition of the center, grew to have 10,000 students by its fifth year, Abercrombie said.

Three or four other similar training centers exist in the U.S., and five or six more are being developed, he said.

"Those training sites that are planned for this facility are as good as anything you'll find, even outside of the state," he said.

Training together

Kevin Matthews, administrative fire chief for the Tulsa Fire Department, said the training center will offer a wider variety of classes than the department currently can offer. Emergency responders will be better prepared for disasters by training alongside responders from surrounding communities and agencies, he said.

"It would impact public safety by making us better trained to respond to things like we did in the ice storm," Matthews said.

Training at the National Fire Academy prepared local responders for that disaster. "That kind of training could happen here on a regular basis if we had the regional training center," he said.

Emergency response agencies already have mutual aid agreements, and training together allows them to learn about and correct problems like equipment that does not match up and radios that cannot talk to each other, Abercrombie said. Responders also get to know each other, how their agencies operate and what skills individuals have.

"In the case of a disaster, it's going to be all hands on deck," he said.

Role of the college

Abercrombie discovered that across the country, "community colleges have become the No. 1 provider of police, fire and EMS training."

The fire department brings expertise in the field, and the college brings classroom space, expertise in writing curriculum and teaching, and a neutral platform where emergency responders from various agencies and locations can train together, Abercrombie and Massey said.

TCC will charge tuition to emergency responders who take classes, but "no one's in this to make money," Massey said. "The goal is to keep the tuition very, very affordable."

Matthews said he hopes cadet training for the Tulsa Fire Department eventually could be offered at the center.

TCC already has hundreds of students in its fire emergency services, criminal justice and law enforcement programs, and its degree program that rounds out Tulsa Technology Center's program in emergency medical services, Massey said.

Development

If voters approve the bond issue, Massey said, she expects construction on the training center to start next spring and take at least 18 months to complete.

TCC has agreed to lease 40 acres to the Tulsa Fire Department for the training center, she said.

TCC Chief Financial Officer Gary Crooms said TCC has used existing money to buy about 23 acres for about $800,000 and is in condemnation proceedings to acquire 22 to 25 acres through eminent domain.

Some of the land would be allotted for TCC's long-term development, he said.

Matthews said he expects the training center to spur economic development by attracting students from out of town who would take classes, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants.

TCC bond and millage election

-- Tuesday in Tulsa County

-- Seven-year, $76 million bond issue for construction projects on all four campuses and in Owasso

-- Property tax increase from 7 to 8.7 mills for operational costs of new facilities and academic program expansion

-- A homeowner with a $100,000 house would pay about $50 a year for both proposals.

April Marciszewski 581-8475

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