Lakeland Fire Department Training Center Complex Celebrates Grand Opening
by James Coulter
Lakeland firefighters can now train to be the best they can be while also being available to answer local fire calls at their new Training Center Complex.
Located at 2450 W. Lake Parker Drive, the new facility offers the latest state-of-the-art training opportunities for personnel at the Lakeland Fire Department.
The training facility underwent several years of planning and construction until finally being officially opened and dedicated with a grand opening ceremony last Monday.
The event, attended by city and local officials, featured a hose uncoupling ceremony and tours of the new facility, a live training demonstration, and refreshments.
The five-acre complex includes both a five-story and four-story tower, allowing the facility to run multiple training drills and train its staff in half the time, explained John Almskog, Division Chief of Training.
“The expectation is for the citizens of Lakeland to know that our people are operationally prepared, trained, and ready for an all-hazards approach,” Almskog said. “Anything that can happen in the community, we can train for so that we are ready to create calm out of chaos.”
With over 23 years of experience working at the fire department, Almskog was a subject matter expert who helped design the facility with the contractor, architect, and engineering groups involved with the project.
The facility was designed and constructed according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, focusingon their personnel’s health, wellness, and safety.
“When individuals come here and conduct live-fire training, they can degrade their bunker gear, take it off, and launder it here,” Almskog said. “[Then they can] put on their spare set of bunker gear and shower here, fill their air bottles, and get everything back in service so they can be operational when they leave this property.”
Special consideration was taken towards carcinogen exposure during live-training drills. Firefighters have a higher cancer ratethan regular citizens, as exposure to carcinogens is a leading cause of death, explained Janel Vasallo, Public Relations and Information Manager.
To prevent carcinogen exposure and cross-contamination, dirty classrooms are provided to allow spaces for firefighters after outdoor training, allowing them to be contained in one area.
“We take into account the fact that when they are training, they can be exposed even with live fire with carcinogens on their clothing and equipment,” she said. “So we have clean classrooms where they can leave those carcinogens outside…[The facility offers] a lot of very cool features like that which we could not imagine ten years ago because it was not a present issue in fire service.”
The Lakeland Fire Department has trained at the same training facility since the 1960s. Often, firefighters would have to travel to other specific training facilities in or even out of the county.
The new facility was constructed to facilitate new state-of-the-art training practices and provide a more convenient training location so firefighters can more immediately answer fire calls.
“Our new training center was built at the same location but to meet our training needs and the number of calls our station receives at present day,” Vasallo said. “We were able to make an amazing training center on a tight budget, but we were still able to get all our needs with multiple classrooms, and it is still in the center of Lakeland so we can answer fire calls from there in a timely fashion.”
More than 75 to 100 people, including personnel from other fire departments in the county, attended the grand opening ceremony on Monday. With the complex sitting on five acres of land, the property more than accommodated proper social distancing for the gathering.
Expectations remain high for the new training complex, which is expected to help the department maintain its ISO Service 1 rating. The rating is the highest that any fire department can have. Lakeland’s Fire Department is one of 40 in Florida and one in 300 in the country to have that rating.
“I like that the department takes a lot of pride in the quality of service that we provide,” Vasallo said. “We like to think that we are the best, and to be the best, we need the best. That goes for people as well as equipment and facilities.”