PUNTA GORDA — Charlotte County must start building its airport fire training facility this year.
Commissioners authorized the use of $1.5 million in grant funds this week to start building a site where a fake fuselage will sit.
“The Federal Aviation Administration has recognized a lack of facilities across the country,” Battalion Chief Larry Lippel told the Sun.
When completed, the site will be the only one in the state outside of Jacksonville, Lippel said. Firefighters from Charlotte County Fire and Emergency Management Services are required by federal regulations to train on this once a year. They currently pay to go to Jacksonville, as do other county fire departments.
This preliminary state grant will not pay for the purchase of the simulation equipment known as a hot fire training prop. This funding will come at a later stage, said Public Safety Director Bill Van Helden.
First, the county must use the grant to build a computerized command center, the fuel storage, restrooms and other land work. The grant requires that the preliminary construction be done this year, said Van Helden. The site is at the fire department’s location on Airport Road.
Before the facility is complete, the county will have to buy a full-sized plane model that will allow firefighters to practice rescuing people from inside the plane and putting out fires in all parts of the plane.
Not many companies build these models, Van Helden told commissioners two weeks ago.
“None have been made in many, many years,” said Lippel.
The models are generally made of steel so they can withstand low-temperature propane fires, said Lippel. They can be set ablaze over and over again without burning up.
Commissioners asked Van Helden whether the county could charge other fire departments to use the facility. He answered yes, but added that will not necessarily make the facility a profit-making operation.