Washington County cuts ribbon for new training center

Mark Kopp is no stranger to firefighter and police courses, and he gives high marks for the new Washington County Public Safety Training Center.

“It’s state-of-the-art. It’s phenomenal,” Kopp said Tuesday night. “This is just the beginning of what’s going to happen.”

Kopp, who retired after 29 years with the Montgomery County Police Department, is the chief of the Community Volunteer Fire Co. Inc. of District No. 12 in Fairplay.

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Now, as part of a recruit class for the county’s Division of Emergency Services, he is among many firefighters, police officers and emergency medical workers trained at the new center. Many of those people served as guides Tuesday night, when the county held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility off Sharpsburg Pike.

Speakers at the ceremony thanked donors, volunteers, emergency professionals, and county and state officials for making the center possible.

They also noted that the building is the first step towards creating a full facility on the 48-acre site. Future phases are to include a burn tower, an indoor firing range, and a tactical village where rescuers could simulate real-life conditions.

The training center will contribute to creating a “unified body of public security intervention”

Sheriff Doug Mullendore said one of the benefits of the center is allowing police, firefighters and emergency medical workers to train side-by-side for real-life scenarios. He said such training was essential and referenced the mass shooting in Smithsburg in June.

“It’s not a question of whether there is another mass casualty event. It’s when,” he said. “(Good training) enables us to protect you, the public, and that is what is essential.”

The center will help create “a more unified public safety response corps,” Kevin Lewis, assistant director of administrative services, told the crowd.

He urged officials to continue developing the campus and said the tactical village would be needed for practical classes.

“We can’t stop here,” he said.

Community members join local leaders in the Luther "Jay" Grimes Memorial Atrium at the Washington County Public Safety Training Center on Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Located on 48 acres off Sharpsburg Pike, just south of Hagerstown, the training facility will be used by police, firefighters and emergency services personnel.

Other speakers included Jeff Cline, Chairman of the County Commissioners; R. David Hays, director of the County Emergency Services Division; and Dale Fishack, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. Tom Riford, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce, was the emcee.

The county paid $528,000 for the land, and work on the site and construction of the building cost about $12 million, Hays wrote in an email Wednesday. The county received $1 million from the state to help construct the college building.

Another $1.5 million has been budgeted for the burn building and training tower, Hays wrote.

Construction of the new building began in 2020.

The building, which covers approximately 35,000 square feet, was built to accommodate a second floor, should this expansion become necessary. Among other amenities, it includes classrooms, offices, a rest room, locker rooms and an audiovisual area, with medical mannequins, to simulate fires and other emergencies.

There’s also a fitness room with weights and cardio machines for physical training.

The center has been an excellent resource for specialists

Kopp and others have put those facilities to good use over the past few weeks.

In the gym, for example, trainers put recruits through workouts designed to help them perform on the job.

“It’s all based on the work we’re going to do on the pitch,” Kopp said. “Everything is done for a reason.”

Police academy cadet Mariah Dolan is pictured outside the Luther "Jay" Grimes Memorial Atrium during a tour of the Washington County Public Safety Training Center Tuesday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Located on 48 acres off Sharpsburg Pike, just south of Hagerstown, the training center will be used by police, firefighters and emergency services personnel.

Frank Smith, one of the instructors, called the building a “great resource” for training a range of public safety specialists.

The audiovisual training room, for example, is computer controlled.

Smith said trainers can modify scenarios as needed to display a variety of real-life situations and scenes, and instructors can also observe how participants react.

At one point on Tuesday, the screen showed a fire in a brick building.

“If they have pictures, they can do that,” Smith said.

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In another part of the building, rookie Chasity Plummer showed visitors a police training room.

Plummer had served as a deputy in the Bedford County, Pennsylvania, sheriff’s office. Now she is going through the police academy, run by Hagerstown Community College and now housed at the center, to become an officer in the Hagerstown Police Department.

There are “better opportunities” in Hagerstown, she said. And she said she was enjoying the classes at the new center.

“We’ve been here 66 days,” she said Tuesday. The class will be graduating in February and she can’t wait to get to work.

“Right now I just want to stay on patrol and see how it goes,” she said of her goals with HPD. “I’m very open-minded.”

Mike Lewis covers business, economics and other issues. Follow Mike on Twitter: @MiLewis

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