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San Diego first responders to hone driving skills at new training center

The $32 million 40-acre San Diego-area facility includes a track where fire, police and EMS personnel can practice driving emergency vehicles

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San Diego County Sheriffs’ vehicles are driven on the new Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC) on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 in Otay Mesa.

Tribune News Service

By David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — A new $32.4 million training facility unveiled Wednesday will allow law enforcement officers, firefighters and ambulance operators from across San Diego County to hone their driving skills in order to safely respond to emergencies, officials said.

The Emergency Vehicle Operations Center, the first of its kind in the region, sits on 40 acres in the Otay Mesa area and features three areas — including a track — for first responders to practice driving in their patrol vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances.

Law enforcement recruits in the regional academy will also use the facility, which the county Sheriff’s Department will operate.

Undersheriff Kelly Martinez said “emergency driving” is one of the most high-risk tasks first responders perform. She described the training facility as “an enormous investment in public safety.”

“It gives us the skillset we need to be able to drive safely in the community,” Martinez said in an interview after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the site on Otay Mesa Road near Alta Road.

San Diego police Chief David Nisleit echoed her comments.

“Something that we need to do — and do safely — is to get to calls for service,” Nisleit said during the ceremony. “Whether it is responding to a mass casualty type of event, a shooting or just a medical call, it’s imperative that we get there in a quick manner, and to do that, we have to be safe.”

First responders will practice quick lane changes, sudden braking, driving in reverse and more. Simulated scenarios will help police train to handle pursuits — how to keep up with the suspect, maneuver around traffic, use spike strips and so on, Martinez said.

The facility will help officers and deputies meet state-mandated training requirements, Nisleit and Martinez said.

They both described the facility as a long-awaited project.

It dates to 1993, when the search for land on which to build the facility began, Martinez said. The Otay Mesa-area site was selected in 2017, and construction began last October.

“It’s incredible to finally see this come through,” Nisleit said.

For years, San Diego police officers and county sheriff’s deputies — and recruits from the regional academy — trained in the parking lot of what was then Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. After the city of San Diego sold the site to San Diego State University last year, the agencies relocated to the parking lot of Pechanga Arena in the Midway District.

For San Diego Cal Fire crews, training has taken place in parking lots and on surface streets.

“This (facility) will give us a safe and secure location to perform our operations without disrupting any businesses or residential areas for that matter,” Division Chief Mark Oakley said.

P. Wesley Lundburg, president of Miramar College, which hosts the regional law enforcement academy, said the college partnered with law enforcement and fire agencies on the new facility to prepare its recruits for their role in public safety.

“The construction of this new facility sends an important message to our community, as well as to our students and cadets, about our shared commitment to providing the finest and best prepared deputies and police officers in the nation,” Lundburg said.

The $32.4 million price tag includes the purchase of the property and construction of the facility. San Diego and Miramar College provided $5 million each.

Officials said they envision adding classrooms and an administrative office on the site as part of a future phase when funding is available.


©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune