ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) - A new police and fire training center proposed in the city of Round Rock could one day provide advanced emergency training for many smaller, surrounding Central Texas cities.
That's part of the concept being touted for the $38.3 million facility that first responders hope will be on November's ballot as a bond issue.
"This is looking at the future of not only the police officers safety, but the citizens safety," said Round Rock Police Training Sgt. Sean Johnson. "As we grow (population of more than 100,000), we need a training area to allow our officers to be the best that they can get."
A full-scale training center was a dream five years ago when Round Rock police moved into the building on North Mays Street, fronting 72 acres of vacant land in the city's north end. Now the business plan is public.
Right now, between them, Round Rock police and fire spend more than $600,000 every year away from their regular shifts. That includes driving to training facilities in places like Ft. Hood, which houses a specialized urban police training facility that city police travel to twice a year.
The plan predicts the new public safety facility could cut training costs in half, to an estimated $294,350. Most, if not all, training would be done right on site, eliminating travel costs and time. It would also cut the cost of officers and firefighters being away from their regular posts.
It's not just a dollar issue for the city's emergency responders. "There are (high risk calls) that don't happen in the real world every day," Johnson said. "So, if we don't practice those skills, it's a perishable skill, then we'll lose that skill set."
There is similar opinion among managers at Round Rock's Fire Department, where taxpayer dollars also fund visits to training centers like one in Bryan, Texas.
The department's assistant chief said it's tough to find local public spaces for repetitive training. For example, fire trucks are forbidden from doing repeated driver exercises on the open parking lot area of Dell Diamond. That's because the 80,000 pound vehicles tear up the pavement there.
"Having an area that's designed specifically for that is going to be valuable," said assistant chief Billy Wusterhausen.
Ultimately, Sgt. Johnson sees a day when city police, fire and Williamson County EMS can collaborate more often in one training area.
"All three could train together and you don't get that often anywhere," he said.
Johnson used the Sandy Hook shooting as an example of a mass casualty incident where first responders would be more effective if they had repeated training with other departments.
The proposed center would be designed with a projected population in Round Rock of 250,000. The city's population now tops 102,000.
"As we grow out to that 250,000 population and we're still the second safest city in the United States, we will have done it right," Sgt. Johnson said.
The training facility still has to be put on November's ballot as a bond issue, along with another bond proposal to build new or renovate city fire stations.
Fire Chief David Coatney said depending on what Round Rock voters agree to, the build-out could happen in stages to spread out the cost over several years.
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