From the Coast News
By Shelli DeRobertis

CARLSBAD — In just more than four acres of space, peace officers and firefighters can train for emergencies at a fake mini strip mall, help someone trapped in an elevator, rappel from the top of a five-story building, fight a kitchen or garage fire, shoot pistols and rifles, receive classroom instruction using the latest technology and crawl into underground tunnels after the $16.5 million training facility is expected to open early in the new year. The city’s Joint First Responder’s Training Facility is state-of-the-art construction that is taking shape on a patch of land that used to be a grass field between the Carlsbad police and fire stations, at 2650 Orion Way.

The city’s emergency personnel have had to commute to other training centers around the county to train, but soon the entire region can benefit from using their own first-class training center, which has buildings equipped with moveable props and smoke effects that up-close resemble a movie set.

“The whole idea is to create an environment where it looks and feels real,” said Carlsbad Police Capt. Bill Rowland, who heads the project for the police department.

From conception to the September 2010 construction, it took about seven years to create the three-building facility — a one of its kind for at least the county — as its design implements concepts combined from several other safety training centers.

Robert Rowe, the superintendent of Ledcor Construction Inc., the contracted company performing the work, said the technology used in the Carlsbad training center comes from the military.

“In Poway, you have a little tower you can run up and down. This is true to life; you have residential, industrial, burn props, and commercial and a 100-yard (shooting) range,” he said.

The streetscape area has a city feel to it, he said, and it mimics the Sheriff’s at Duffy’s Town in San Diego along with concepts pulled from Laser Village, which is the fake town portion of the Orange County Sheriff’s Tactical Training Center.

Rowland came up with adding the streetscape design to the Carlsbad training center in an area that was a blank wall in the original design, he said.

Now the wall front is like an actual city street made of up several storefronts, including a fake bank with framework in place for two ATM props.

Inside the residential building, a garage and a kitchen will each house computer-controlled fire props that use natural gas to create real heat and flame, without creating huge plumes of smoke.

The classroom building can occupy up to 100 people in its main instruction room, and the other side of the building has two indoor shooting ranges inside.

The city’s officers have been practicing at an outdoor shooting range on a dirt berm, but now will benefit from simulated scenarios inside the two indoor ranges that are complete with light and smoke effects and moveable props.

Even the city’s mobile command unit will benefit from the new center, and now park underneath a special covered carport.

The five-story commercial building, which has outdoor stairs and resembles a hotel, will become the tallest building in the city, Rowland said.

But the training extends belowground, also, and utility workers and first responders can practice subterranean rescue inside of an underground rescue prop.

“It certainly is everything we need to do. We’re not sending our assets out of the city,” Rowland said.

Firefighters have had to travel to Escondido and Otay for their training.

He said the emergency responders will be able to do a lot of their training while on duty, which keeps them in the city and available to respond when needed.