A contingent of Wheatland officials, including members of the town board, break ground at the future fire training facility at the Department of Public Works property in the City of Burlington Saturday. The Town of Wheatland Volunteer Fire Department will join three Racine County agencies. (From left) Fire chief Lou Denko, town supervisor Kelly Wilson, fire department members Brittany Lamb, Aaron Richter, Traci Denko, Mike Herda, Brian Kretschmer and assistant chief Brian Kerkman (Chad Hensiak/The Report).

Area fire departments usher in future training facility

By Jason Arndt

Before Alan Babe took the reigns as the fire chief of the City of Burlington, there were already some discussions about creating a shared fire training facility, which came one step closer earlier this month when officials from four departments broke ground.

Babe, who took over in July 2016, said Saturday’s groundbreaking on the city’s Department of Public Works property on Highway 83 was the result of cumulative efforts from multiple agencies.

“We started the idea of a training facility long before I got here,” Babe said. “When I arrived here as fire chief of the city in July 16, one of the things that was brought to my attention was the idea of having a training center that we all could join in and work together.”

Babe credited his predecessor, Mark Strasser, along with former Town of Burlington fire chief Ed Umnus for laying the groundwork. Deputy chief Bill McCourt and assistant fire chief Eric Jones, both of the city of Burlington, also contributed to the early discussions.

Along with the city and town of Burlington, the Village of Rochester in Racine County and Town of Wheatland in Kenosha County joined the partnership.

The partnership, according to Wheatland assistant fire chief Brian Kerkman, can only strengthen relationships between the participating departments.

“I think it gives us a bright future, because we can expand on it, and it is not only going to help us with training because we are working together,” he said.

The Tri-County Fire and Rescue Associations Inc., a nonprofit organization formed by the four departments, will fund the training center through grants and fundraisers by each agency.

As of April, the organization has raised about $24,000 of the estimated $167,000 training facility to finance the project, which will be managed by Scherrer Construction of Burlington. Construction management services will cost an additional $10,000.

The organization expedited the project timeline after securing a loan from Fox River State Bank.

Babe, meanwhile, hopes to see the project completed by the start of the fall.

“We have had a wet spring, and they are little behind with getting this site ready, our lean time has been pushed out a little further than what we really anticipated,” he said.

Constructing the three-story facility will be American Fire Training Systems, Inc., of Lemont, Ill., which plans to create multiple features.

The training facility gives the four departments flexibility to train in an atmosphere close to actual conditions, provides accessibility for other departments, offers more controlled training and is expandable.

Reported uses of the facility include fire suppression, search and rescue, rapid intervention, medical rescue and intervention.

The facility will allow each department to fulfill state-mandated training requirements.

Kerkman said each department typically trains once or twice per month.

Fire chief Jack Biermann, meanwhile, looks forward to bolstering relationships with the other departments.

“This is an awesome opportunity for the four departments,” Biermann said. “Most of us already work together if there is a fire.”

While the facility is under construction, officials with the nonprofit organization plan to draft a fee schedule to allow other departments to use the building.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the July 13 print edition of the Twin Lakes Report.


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