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Published: Thursday, 10/8/2009

Safe place to face hazards

BY MEGHAN GILBERT-CUNNINGHAM
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In Hollywood style with SWAT team members rappelling down the wall and firefighters trudging through smoke to combat flames, Owens Community College will unveil its new Training and Operations Center tomorrow.

A virtual four-story building in the recently completed center allows law enforcement officials and others to do exercises in a safe and secure format.

“Imagination is the only limit here,” said Michael Cornell, director of the college's Center for Emergency Preparedness.

There are scenarios for kitchen, bedroom, laundry room, and other fires where a video is projected onto a glass screen that responds to water directed by firefighters.

And there's smoke and a sound system to add those elements of a blaze. The “pods” can be changed to reflect a hostage incident, a shooter inside a school building, a situation involving hazardous materials, and more.

The 28,000-square-foot Training and Operations Center will officially open with an 8 a.m. ceremony.

The $3.2 million center is part of the college's $20 million Center for Emergency Preparedness at Tracy and Walbridge roads that includes a training village with a gas station, bank, house, and more. There's also a real fire training building, train cars, buses, a boat, an armored vehicle, and an airplane for safety drills.

The training center is the newest addition that includes six classrooms and locker rooms, along with the virtual building. The building has four of those “pods” that can display different scenes on each floor.

Law enforcement agencies already have been using it for training, and classes are being booked through January, Mr. Cornell said. Safety, the ability to train year-round, and the variety of scenario options are key draws, he said.

“Here, you can make a mistake without someone getting hurt,” he said. “If we ‘kill' you here, you'll think twice about it on the street. That's our goal here, to provide stellar training and help you do your job well and go home at the end of the night.”

Toledo Fire Chief Michael Wolever said the department has used the other facilities at Owens' Center for Emergency Preparedness and the virtual fire building will offer another option for their multidimensional training.

“From the perspective of a new trainee, getting them ready for going out into the real world, it's going to prove, I believe, a good tool for us to use,” he said.

And it's easier to send his staff to Perrysburg Township to train than the state fire marshal's headquarters in Reynoldsburg. “Having training facilities in your backyard to train is a huge convenience,” Chief Wolever said. “It's going to be an asset for the area.”

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said his tactical team trains at the complex, and said the newest center will continue to strengthen the opportunities for law enforcement. “The more realistic we can make our training, the better it is,” he said.

Contact Meghan Gilbert-Cunningham at: mcunningham@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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