Pa. officials consider $4M expansion of public safety training center
Centre County Public Safety Training Center’s expansion highlights the growing education of first responders
By Josh Moyer
Centre Daily Times
PLEASANT GAP, Pa. — White smoke slowly crept out of the building’s second floor. A minute later, the smoke turned a menacing black and began to billow out of the building and swirl in the wind like a twister.
A half-dozen firefighters trudged in the county-owned building and extinguished the blaze Wednesday morning. They took a break, the fire restarted, and they put it out again. Then again.
After all, practice makes perfect — and here, at the Centre County Public Safety Training Center, controlled blazes like this help prepare current and future emergency responders for what could be life-or-death situations. With controlled structural burns in a “practice” building and a “practice” roof, to go along with a driving course and other training areas, the Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap has played an important role in central Pennsylvania.
And, if it’s up to Centre County’s three commissioners and other lawmakers, the center at 391 N. Harrison Road will soon see an expansion as its importance continues to evolve. The training center is seeking several state and federal grants to help build a $4 million education building on the existing property, one that would boast four classrooms, an ambulance bay — and showers. (Controlled or not, it’s still difficult getting that smoke-smell out of hair.)
If everything goes according to plan, the commissioners hope to break ground by 2025.
“This education building is going to be one more step in the continuing evolution of improvements at this facility to make sure our first responders have the training and knowledge they need to serve the same folks that we serve, and that is the citizens of Centre County,” County Commissioner Steve Dershem said. “And the fact this extends beyond Centre County into a regional facility makes it that much more special for us, because we’re making an impact across Pennsylvania.”
According to estimates from officials, about 5,000 volunteers and professionals from 18 surrounding counties receive training from the center every year. It’s grown so quickly that, to some extent, it’s become a victim of its own success: There just isn’t enough space anymore.
On Wednesday, the University Park Airport Fire Department continued their training and certification to address emergencies that go beyond airplanes and include the airport terminal itself. Although they were not available to speak with the media, they donned their protective gear, listened to direction from nearby instructors and ignored the swirling smoke to complete their exercises.
Some family members sat in the nearby bleachers, as if watching a softball game. A few well-dressed officials lamented wearing suits and returning to their respective offices smelling like campfires.
Representatives for U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard, and state Rep. Jared Solomon, D-Philadelphia, were on-hand Wednesday, as were the county’s three commissioners and state Rep. Paul Takac, D-College Township.
“The dedicated professionals and volunteers who serve our communities every day not only deserve our gratitude but our unwavering support and commitment,” Takac said.
The center is owned by the county, but it is managed and operated by the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, which also hosted an emergency services class Wednesday morning for 24 local high school students. Centre County’s commissioners thanked CPI — and many others — for their work toward making the center such a success.
“I think this is probably one of the best investments Centre County has ever made,” Dershem added. “Over the course of time, it went from a concept to something that’s evolved into a state-of-the-art training facility.”