First responders get center that befits their bravery

Long-awaited Chester County Public Safety Training Campus opens first phase

By Kathleen Brady SheaManaging Editor, The Times

Whether  trying to extricate accident victims from  burning wreckage or evaluating a bomb threat, emergency responders specialize in overcoming obstacles,.

Such perseverance served them well in the quest for a county training facility, an arduous, years-long process that made today’s official opening of the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus all the more gratifying , officials said.

The event, hosted by Ed Atkins, the county’s emergency services director, marked the completion of the first phase of a three-pronged initiative: an education center.

Hours after the ribbon-cutting, the county Fire Police Association held its monthly meeting there, and a training class is scheduled for Monday night in what was once a research and development building for Lukens Steel and then ArcelorMittal.

The second phase will involve the construction of a four-acre tactical village on the campus’s  95-acre tract on Modena Road in South Coatesville. The setup will enable responders to hone rescue skills in realistic surroundings, such as trenches, sloping roadways or rail cars. The final phase will be an indoor shooting range.


A steel beam from the World Trade Center, forged in Coatesville, was installed in the lobby of the education center as a tribute to the emergency responders who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

The celebration attracted a crowd of hundreds, including county and local officials, members of law enforcement, politicians, businesspeople,  ambulance and fire personnel and their families. The diverse mix of participants reinforced a theme expressed by many of the nine speakers, including all three Chester County Commissioners: Teamwork made the project possible.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman said he recalled first hearing about the proposed center in 1992; then he found out it had been on the commissioners’ agendas for 30 years. He said bipartisan cooperation fueled the effort to bring it to fruition, and he announced that another $250,000 in state funds was just released to help pay for it.

Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell explained that the 911 center averages more than 800 calls a day – calls that are answered by 57 fire companies, 45 police departments, and 23 ambulance companies. “It is essential that they have the opportunity to train together,” he said.

Despite the festive atmosphere, the day included some stark reminders of the dangers that first-responders face. Outside the education building,  3,384 flags are displayed on the lawn, each with the name of a Sept. 11, 2001  victim, 366 of whom were emergency responders.

Before the ribbon-cutting, a steel beam, forged in Coatesville and taken to New York City for the construction of the World Trade Center, was dedicated in the lobby.  Flanked by an American flag on the wall, it serves as a somber focal point, jutting upward into a skylight.

After the ceremony, Beau Crowding, the county’s deputy director for fire services, said the total project is expected to cost $19.1 million. To date, the state has contributed $4.55 million – counting the funds announced today – the federal government has kicked in $3.1 million; the county, $8.4 million; and two nonprofits, the Brandywine Health Foundation and the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, have contributed $400,000 and $300,000 respectively.

Frances Sheehan, who heads the Brandywine Health Foundation, said it was an easy project to get behind. “Everyone benefits,” she said, explaining that better training leads to improved services.

Lonnie Brown, who will teach the first class tomorrow night – on the safe operation of pumper trucks –  said he began fighting fires in the late 50s and became involved in volunteer training in the ‘70s.

“It’s quite something to see this facility … having what you need instead of what we could scratch together,” he said.

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