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New burn building underway in Chenango County

Oct 07, 2023Oct 07, 2023

A unit of Army soldiers are erecting a new burn building for firefighter training in Norwich, working this week through the haze of wildfire smoke and then rain.

Burn buildings are structures for live fire training, where fires are set up inside the building and firefighters enter to practice search and rescue, extinguishing the fire, forced entry techniques and using ladder trucks.

"This is a big deal for us," Chenango County EMS Fire Coordinator and Director Matt Beckwith said Thursday, "because we haven't had one in 23 years."

The old burn building, a cement block structure that still stands on the training grounds on Hale and Prentice streets, was decommissioned in 2000 after about 20 years in operation. "We’ve hit it so hot that the blocks were starting to deteriorate," which, along with other factors, ruled out a refurbishment of the structure, Beckwith said.

The new three-story steel structure will serve the 21 fire departments in Chenango County. Local firefighters had been training on burn buildings in neighboring counties. The new structure likely will be open to nearby counties for training as well, Beckwith said.

The Army unit arrived Saturday and is slated to stay for two weeks, with building completion scheduled for June 17.

The officer in charge is Army First Lt. Justin Davis of the 827th Engineer Construction Company, which is participating as part of the U.S. Department of Defense's Innovative Readiness Training, a civilian-military partnership program in which service members provide services and develop projects for municipalities or nonprofit organizations.

"For the soldiers," Davis said, "this is an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to get some real, quality hands-on training on something that is a real-world scenario for them."

There are 30 soldiers on the ground — masonry specialties, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and a couple of horizontal engineers, or heavy equipment operators. "We get to wear two hats, Davis said. "We get to be engineers and construction workers in the real world and in the Army as well."

The county purchased the building materials, which arrived in January. Beckwith said that the county contracted out to have the foundation poured and the Army is assembling it from there.

Beckwith said county officials identified in 2015 that they needed a burn building and put in a grant application for the Innovative Readiness Training program. "It was awarded," he said, "and unfortunately we had to turn it down, because we didn't actually own the property. So we had to go through some hoops with the city to turn the property back over to us, to the county, which they did."

Then COVID-19 hit, causing more delays, but the county was able to appropriate $600,000 in ARPA funds toward firefighter training enhancements. Of that, $421,000 has been spent so far.

Beckwith said the cost savings from the IRT grant were substantial. "Easily this this project would be over a million dollars," he said.

On the planning committee putting together funding with Beckwith were Sherboure Town Supervisor Charles Mastro — who chaired the committee — and Chenango County Treasurer William Craine, with the cooperation of Chenango County Board of Supervisors Chairman George Seneck and help from County Planning and Development Director Shane Butler and Southern Tier 8 Regional Board Executive Director Jen Gregory.

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