This article was written by Laura Camper at the Newnan Times Harold

On Jan. 2, Newnan firefighters were rappelling down the side of a four-story tower at the city’s new fire training facility – the first training held there since its recent completion.

Firefighter Drew Fowlkes, who was setting up the equipment at the top of the tower, said the training wasn’t specifically for fire, but for rescue.

“What we’re practicing today is just setting up our system and actually lowering a rescuer down,” Fowlkes said. “This could be a situation where somebody’s off of a cliff or in a deep ravine or anything like that, and our only access would be to actually lower a rescuer into that place.”

He hasn’t done a rescue of that type yet, although he has had to do rescues from trees, Fowlkes said, adding, “But you’ve got to be ready for anything.”

There are a lot of people who work on buildings, towers and in shafts, so this is a good skill to have, Fowlkes said.

Attached to the tower is a three-floor burn simulator with a kitchen on the ground floor, a bedroom on the second floor and an attic on the third floor. The attic includes two removable hatches in the roof that can be removed and replaced with plywood to allow the firefighters to practice cutting through the roof to access the attic, Brown said.

The simulator is powered by gas, which burns cleaner and, at about 500 F, not as hot as wood. That makes the simulator safer for the training firefighters, he said.

The Newnan Fire Department responded to 85 fires in 2023. Those included dryer, stove, electrical and full structure fires, Brown said. The structure fires are less common since the department responds quickly and is able to put out the fires before they spread, he said.

A separate building hosts an office for Capt. Travis Hall, captain of training, male and female bathrooms complete with showers – Newnan Fire Department currently has one female firefighter – and a classroom. It replaces a trailer that formerly held a small classroom. Inside the storage room is a system to fill the oxygen tanks the firefighters use.

Even the parking lot can be used for training; it’s striped for driver training, Hall said.

Probably the least visible part of the new facility was also the most difficult part to design and build, Brown said.

Scott Meeks, of New South Construction, the contractors who built the new facility, did much of the research to design the new 15,000-gallon drafting pit.

The fire department uses the drafting pit to do the annual testing of its pumper trucks, he said. The trucks are required to pump a certain number of gallons per minute or they must be taken out of service, Brown said. When the old pit was built in the 1970s, the fire trucks pumped about 750 gallons per minute. Now they pump upwards of 1,500 to 2,000 gallons per minute, he said. The old drafting pit just wasn’t built for that volume, Brown said.

It’s 8.5 feet across and 52 feet long and it has baffles inside it to calm the air bubbles so that they don’t interfere with the testing, Meeks said.

During the testing, the water is circulated from the truck to the tank and back into the truck, so the department isn’t just throwing the water away, Meeks said.

“It’s specifically made for this,” he said.

But it’s underground and all people can see of the pit are a red curved pipe and another pipe that the fire engines’ hoses hook up to sticking out of the ground in the parking lot.

“This is one of the first ones around here like that,” Brown said. “We’ve already tested it out, and it worked fantastic a lot better than the last one.”

The new facility will allow a broader range of training for area firefighters, said Newnan Fire Chief Stephen Brown. The firefighters have annual training requirements – the state requires a minimum of 24 hours of training and the Newnan firefighters do about 120 hours, Brown said.

“You can do it in-house, or you can actually go to Forsyth (to the Georgia Fire Academy) and get that training,” he said. “We can probably host some of those state courses here. We’re looking at some of that.”

Newnan will be hosting a ribbon cutting for its new fire training facility on Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. But it’s already getting attention, Brown said.

Representatives from a few other fire departments have come over to see the new facility, he said.

“This is first class, there’s no doubt about it,” Brown said.

Fowlkes agreed. He’s excited about the new facility, he said.

“We love training,” Fowlkes said. “This is state-of-the-art.”

The groundbreaking for the facility was held on Feb. 28, 2023, but it was in the works for years before that.

The 2019 special purpose local option sales tax referendum included $1.75 million allocated to a new fire training facility.

In May 2022, Newnan City Council members increased the budget for the facility to $3.8 million. But the final cost will be about $5.3 million, Aimee Hadden, Newnan communications manager, said by email.

“The total cost hasn’t been fully reconciled as we are still landscaping (which we are doing in-house), but the cost as of today is roughly $5.3 million,” she wrote on Jan. 2.

Proceeds from the 2019 SPLOST will pay the entire cost, Hadden wrote.

The new facility will benefit both area residents and the firefighters, Brown said.

“We’ll be better prepared for them and for us,” he said.

Additionally, the facility was built for the long haul, Brown added.

“We built it to grow into,” he said. “And we built it to last long after I’m gone.”