What began as a vision has become a reality at the Allan Hancock College Lompoc Valley Center, where current and future firefighters, law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel will be trained in a state-of-the-art facility.
Officials gathered Thursday morning to herald the completion of the Public Safety Training Complex on 68 acres at the community college campus off Highway 1.
A community open house is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Parking is free.
Along with a guided bus tour, the event will include displays of real emergency vehicles and equipment. Food and souvenir vendors will be on hand.
“This Public Safety Training Complex offers public safety personnel a way to train in ways that we’ve not been able to train in the past," said David Senior, interim associate dean of public safety.
It’s fitting that police and fire training is joined with emergency medical and environmental health personnel because they all make up the first responders in a natural or manmade disaster, speakers said.
“This facility truly is amazing,” Senior said, adding that the training conducted there “is only limited to our imagination.”
The importance of the training was obvious by the audience members who showed up for Thursday’s ceremony.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, Lompoc City Council members, two members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, top law enforcement officers, firefighters and other public safety members from at least three counties gathered for the grand opening ceremony.
The facility actually began hosting training earlier this year and already has seen its first graduates.
“What we are witnessing and experiencing today is the transformation of need into vision into reality — the need for a full-service public safety training facility, the vision to site that facility in Lompoc and the reality of making it happen through perseverance, planning, a bond measure, hard work and a great team of people,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.
He told the audience to imagine the number of careers that will be launched at the academy.
“Imagine the number of lives that will be saved in so many ways as a consequence of the training that will be provided here,” Brown said.
The $38 million facility was funded through Measure I, an $180 million bond passed by voters in 2006 to improve facilities at both the Santa Maria and Lompoc campuses.
Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers noted the “courage” it took elected board members and previous college leaders at the time to relocate the training programs long held in Santa Maria and create the Public Training Safety Complex in Lompoc.
“I know that created a lot of controversy at the time … but truly it’s an honor to work for a board that really put their own interests to the side to do what’s best for our students and for our community,” Walthers said.
The result of that decision is a six-story fire training tower, a 100-yard shooting range, a 1.3-mile emergency vehicle operations course, running track with obstacle courses, off-pavement driving area, low-angle rescue training area, city grid scenario village, academic building and more.
Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow, who also is president of the Santa Barbara County Fire Chiefs Association, said the Hancock Fire Academy has always had a high reputation for producing quality graduates. In fact, his top five candidates for a recent job opening were trained at the Hancock program.
This state-of-the-art facility will provide opportunities to train since other methods aren’t possible due to air quality and other regulations.
Local crews will be able to “keep their skills fresh” so they go into emergency situations — such as Thursday’s fatal mobile home fire Latipow’s crews battled in Lompoc — with confidence and the necessary training to come out unharmed, he added.
Latipow said he also is excited about potential new programs for training and has already talked to Hancock officials about hosting FEMA disaster preparedness classes and exercising urban search-and-rescue teams from throughout the state.
“As you can see, we have endless possibilities," Senior said, "and we’re still figuring out what those things are.”