Adaptable, relevant and accessible, the Multi-Agency Academic Cooperative is a first responder training campus poised to improve the safety of our communities for generations to come.

Our grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremoney was in September. The ceremony celebrated the completion of the first major phase of the capital construction of the MAAC. Now the MAAC, in partnership with Indiana District 1 Firefighter Training Council, is positioned to ramp up the use of the emergency services training facility by first responders seeking to enhance their training and capability.

Even before the ribbon cutting, we were hosting various first responder training classes as training structures or training props were completed. With daytime, evening and weekend classes to meet the needs of volunteer and career first responders, we have recently exceeded 800 training class hours and more than 12,000 student contact hours of training. That's not bad for a facility just getting started.

The majority of the training has been for firefighters, but we are seeing more interest by law enforcement. We recently hosted the Porter County Sheriff’s Department in multiple training sessions along with K-9 officers and their dogs from Porter County, Valparaiso and Portage police departments. We also had the Porter and Lake County SWAT teams at the facility conducting various training scenarios.

One of our goals is to ensure we are adaptable to the needs of first responders by looking for ways to improve “their” facility. Training facilities are never finished, and we encourage first responders to offer feedback on ways we can improve. One example has been feedback we received from some of the K-9 officers, who look for ways to enrich the training of their dogs. They made several suggestions about creating a variety of drug search hiding spots. Based on that feedback, we are working to create a number of different props inside one of our buildings to meet their needs.

Another of our goals is to make the training relevant. For example, with the coordination and assistance of Valparaiso Fire Department and some talented volunteer victims, we were able to create a vehicle accident with multiple victims. This realistic mock scenario allowed the students attending the paramedic sciences class at Ivy Tech Community College to practice a variety of hands-on triage skills.

We also want to make the MAAC easily accessible to any department that wishes to use the facility. To that end, we have developed the MAAC Foundation website (www.maacfoundation.com). The site allows anyone to see an extensive overview of the training props and equipment available at the campus.

First responders also can look at the current training calendar to see what training props are available and what departments are  using the training facility. They can potentially coordinate their training to improve how they work together or submit a request to book the facility directly from the website.

The overall design of the facility ensures multiple groups of first responders can use the facility at the same time, without interfering with each other. The adaptability and capacity to host first responders has been best demonstrated on several recent Saturdays when three different classes brought together more than 100 students from across Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties to use the facility at the same time.

The MAAC is standing ready to provide the training campus for our first responders to keep our communities safe for generations to come.

Ward Barnett is academy director of the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative Foundation in Valparaiso. The opinions are the writer's.

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