BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding more details about facility)
Central Oregon is growing rapidly, and its public safety agencies are hoping to keep up with that growth by building new facilities that several agencies can use.
In fact, during the solar eclipse last year, agencies had to move into the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond because it was the only space they could find to fit everyone involved.
Officials with the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday a proposed Regional Emergency Services Coordination and Training Center would help keep up with training demands for those who want to join the force, as well as those already working as first responders.
"Those demands are going to continue to increase and become more complex, and we want to be able to develop training and have the facilities necessary to keep up with professional standards," Sgt. Nathan Garibay said.
For a number of years, officials said they've been struggling with their training facilities. For example, first responders are training for high-speed driving at sno-parks in the summer.
A training center would have a course specifically designed for the kind of work they’d be doing every day.
"Having a purpose-built facility that could meet those needs would certainly improve our response and coordination efforts,” Garibay said. “It also would be an opportunity to train people in an environment where they could go through the motions of responding to disaster of coordinating large-scale events and disasters.”
Garibay said such a regional center would have been helpful during the major 2017 snowstorm, when counties from across Central Oregon were trying to coordinate their emergency response plans.
Officials believe building the facility near the Redmond Airport, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center and the Redmond Air Center is a good idea. Those agencies operate along the same lines as the facility they hope to build. Plus, Redmond is centrally located in Central Oregon.
The area is also close to Central Oregon Community College’s Redmond campus. That means students who study subjects such as fire science or emergency management would be able to use the center to train for their future careers.
“Those students are our future workforce,” Garibay said. “They’re the future public safety professionals, future first responders. We want to give them the best possible facilities so they learn the trade, and when they're coming out ready for jobs, they have good experience and excellent training so that they can continue to serve our citizens well."
There’s no official timeline for building this center, but the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council is in the process of applying for funding through the federal government.
The 2017 winter storms disaster makes Deschutes County eligible to apply for a $400,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration for the roughly $500,000 project. Officials from various public safety agencies are also reaching out to cities and counties to provide $80,000 in a local cash match and $20,000 in in-kind support.
That money needs to be secured before the planning process for the center can move forward
“As funds become available, we can be as efficient and frugal with those funds as possible, so we can ensure that our first responders are getting the best possible training they can, but that we're being as responsible with public funds as we possibly can," Garibay said.
Overall, officials said they hope to consolidate several agencies and make their training programs more efficient and cost-effective.