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Public safety training center a hit in southeast Alabama

On any given day, the parking lot at the Wiregrass Public Safety Center is full.

Inside the main building, a map of the United States is covered in pins from all the locations that have sent people to train at the training facility. People have traveled from 41 states and five countries.

With barely two years since it opened, the center’s parking lot has already been expanded and just last week the Dothan City Commission approved the design of two new classrooms in a building that has been used for “strip mall” training. Federal funding is being sought to help build an auditorium-style classroom that could seat 200.

“The way our rooms fill up, we run at 85- to 90-percent capacity every week,” said Jason Wright, the center’s executive coordinator.

There are plans to offer even more training opportunities in the future and hopes for a police academy to be located at the center.

Local departments, state and federal agencies, military units, and private companies have all sent staff to the state-of-the-art training center.

“We knew what we had when it was built,” Wright said. “We knew what we had, but I don’t think anybody expected the popularity and the amount of usage we would have when we’ve only been opened for two years.”

A police academy, however, could have a huge impact for local agencies that now have to send new hires to academies in other parts of the state such as Selma, Tuscaloosa or Montgomery. There is no police academy located in southeast Alabama.

The Dothan Police Department has petitioned the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to establish a regional police academy for this portion of the state at the public safety center, Dothan Police Maj. Will Glover said. The next step is for the commission to visit the Wiregrass Public Safety Center and vote on the request.

New police officers have six months after their hire to attend a police academy, Glover said. Issues can arise when classes fill up in that six-month window. Plus, departments have to cover the cost of lodging when new hires travel for police academy training, which can take 12 to 14 weeks.

“Obviously, having an academy in this area would be beneficial for all the departments because once you got past the tuition fees and the cost of the academy, there will be no additional cost to the departments,” Glover said.

The Wiregrass Public Safety Center is available for training use 24 hours a day depending on the needs and the type of class.

Along with classrooms, the training facilities include a range of “props” utilized for public safety training. On the police side, there’s a shooting range, a sniper tower, a live fire shoot house, a virtual training simulator programmed with different reactions from subjects, and a police canine training facility. On the fire side, there’s a drill tower and burn buildings that simulate different types of fire-fighting scenarios.

There are also props for training in a collapsed structure, a confined space, a trench collapse, and a railroad crossing. SWAT teams can utilize buildings to practice entry techniques, and the entire center can be used to train for a large-scale mission. Even the pond out front is used to practice underwater recovery and rescue.

A large concrete pad provides space for fire truck training, and the Teach Me house provides a fully furnished, two-story house for first-responder training as well as teaching local school students about safety in the home.

Wright said there are plans to expand training into farm safety, specifically what first-responders need to know when they respond to an agriculture-related accident.

The training offered across public safety disciplines makes the Wiregrass Public Safety Center unique among other training centers like it, Wright said. Community classes offered at the center – such as firearms safety – also sets it apart from others like it.

“Very few have everything on one campus,” Wright said. “Even fewer allow the public to come in and use it, and that’s really in my opinion what sets us apart is the type of community classes that we offer to men, women and children.”

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