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val fire burn tower.jpg

A rendering of what the burn tower will look like at a proposed firefighter training academy in Valparaiso.

The firefighter training academy planned for Valparaiso is a welcome development.

The academy, expected to serve 2,000 firefighters in five counties, is being planned for Montdale Industrial Park, across U.S. 30 from the Porter County Municipal Airport.

Valparaiso Fire Chief Chad Dutz said his department has been trying to create an academy like this for about eight years.

The academy would include a three-story, 40-foot-tall burn tower on the five-acre site. A current building at the site would be used for classrooms. The site would also have vehicles, a railroad car and other objects that would be useful for training purposes. Firefighters often respond to accident scenes and medical emergencies as well as working fires.

Stewart McMillan, president and CEO of Task Force Tips, created the foundation that is setting up the training center. His company is located in the same industrial park. McMillan’s company manufactures equipment for firefighters. The company was created by McMillan’s father, a firefighter who sketched out a design for a better nozzle on a napkin and founded Task Force Tips to produce it.

McMillan said the academy is safer than using dilapidated buildings for training. Burning down derelict buildings doesn’t provide the same quality of training as a burn tower where conditions can be controlled more easily.

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Adding to the importance of a training center is the fact that there are fewer fires now than there once was. Fewer fires translate into less experience for firefighters.

About 80 percent of fire departments in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton counties use volunteers who pay for their own training. The proposed facility in Valparaiso would be free for them.

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Celina Weatherwax, of Weatherwax Strategies, is leading the project. She said the academy will serve five counties for generations to come.

“Our commitment to this project demonstrates our desire to ensure that our region continues to have the finest public safety professionals anywhere,” she said.

McMillan said he’d like to have the tower constructed as soon as possible.

The plans are currently going through a permitting process, including FAA approval of a building that height near the airport. We hope the necessary approvals are granted. This academy promises to become an asset to the Region.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Regional News Editor Sharon Ross, Assistant Deputy Editor Andrew Steele.