Call it a playground for public safety.
That’s perhaps the best way to describe Fox Valley Technical College’s Public Safety Training Center in Greenville, a 75-acre training ground complete with a six-story burn building, a Boeing 727 aircraft, train derailment simulation and high speed pursuit track.
But not just anyone can come use the sandbox. It’s specifically designed for students and law enforcement training, and it’s gaining nationwide attention.
FVTC’s facility has drawn students and law enforcement officials from all around the U.S. who are utilizing the grounds to gain hands-on training in real-life emergency scenarios. Officials from the college, which received an Insight Innovation Award for the project, say the training center offers an experience no other place in the country can provide.
“What makes us so unique is we do multi-disciplinary training for all aspects of public safety,” says Aaron Tomlinson, dean of public safety. “Most centers across the nation typically only focus on one field of training, and you will see a crossover of all areas here at this facility.”
This $35 million project, built following a 2012 referendum, is located on the south side of Appleton International Airport. It’s the nation’s first fully-integrated training facility for law enforcement, fire service and emergency response personnel. FBI officials have also descended on the training facility to help train some of the nation’s top public safety officials and investigators.
“Since we’ve fully opened in January, we’ve had almost 6,000 people through the building, so really we see an average of 1,000 people per month. And that does not include our degree earning students,” Tomlinson says.
Secret Service and FBI squads use the facility as a way to gain hands-on experience in situations they might face on a daily basis.
“Having some of the top emergency response people in the field come here to do their training says a lot about the facility. We have established a location that people want to come to,” Tomlinson says.
Besides the hands-on training, the site also features classrooms with state-of-the-art technology. Tomlinson says the rooms provide a way for students and law enforcement to learn the basics, before applying what they learned to real-life situations.
Serving a need
More than 400 students were on a waiting list for the Fire Protection Program before the training center opened. The college found its criminal justice training programs had increased 60 percent between 2008 and 2011, which helped fuel the building of the 95,000 square-foot training center.
Enhancing emergency response skills locally was one initiative behind the facility’s creation. The training center is designed to handle everything from emergency response training to other related crisis scenarios. River City, which is designed to replicate a real community, has real buildings including two houses, a gas station and a bank, among others.
“To have an actual airplane to conduct training on is not something that a lot of public safety officials encounter when they go through different training courses,” Tomlinson says. “But it’s capabilities like this that put us on the map, and why we are so lucky.”
An economic impact study conducted before the center opened showed that the center will have a $12 million impact on the region. It also brings in an estimated $500,000 in new tax revenue each year.
This past spring the center hosted 70 field agents for a training session for the Department of Health and Human Services. Tomlinson says the center’s national reputation has helped the local economy by bringing large groups to Appleton.
“When the agents came for the training session, they stayed in downtown Appleton for the entire week, so not only are we drawing attention to the public training center itself, but local businesses are also seeing the effect the project has brought to the area,” Tomlinson says.
The Appleton Police Department has used the facility to ensure its personnel receive the best and most comprehensive training available. Assistant Police Chief Todd Olm was at the facility in the spring and said he had never seen a facility of this magnitude before.
“The capabilities and size of the training center are truly astonishing,” Olm says. “It trains our officers in settings that resemble real-life scenarios, which in turn makes us even more capable to handle emergency situations.”
The training center, which took 10 years to plan and create is now a working reality for officials and students who dedicate their careers to protect the safety of the communities they serve. Fox Valley Technical College is proud of the model it has created, and the feedback it has received over time drives its mission forward.
“Everyone is always amazed when they come out here, and we always hear how fortunate our students and local departments are to have a community to support a project like this,” Tomlinson says. “The biggest part of our mission here is to educate on how to keep the community safe, and that truly is the piece that keeps us going.”