TAMPA — Larry Gispert surveyed the cavernous space, taking in the huge video screens and rows of work stations, and thought back to an infamous Florida hurricane season.
8 Months Ago
6 Months Ago
6 Months Ago
"I could have used this in 2004," said Gispert, who served as Hillsborough County's emergency management director for 14 years.
That year, when four hurricanes battered Florida, Gispert spent days on end in the county's antiquated emergency operations center in Tampa. It didn't have enough work stations or places to shower and sleep, and the air conditioning labored but couldn't keep the place cool.
Now, Gispert, who retired in 2011, was standing in the incident command room of the county's new operations center, a vast room situated in the heart of a $36.1 million public safety operations complex.
Moments earlier, county commissioners used gold scissors to slice through a shiny red ribbon draped across the entrance of the 52,000-square-foot main building, marking the official opening of the 24-acre complex on Columbus Drive west of Falkenburg Road.
The project has been years in the making, set in motion after the 2004 season drove home the inadequacies of the old emergency operations center on Hanna Avenue in Tampa. Construction began in June 2015 and some staff members began moving into the new complex in November.
The complex serves as headquarters for the Fire Rescue and Emergency management departments and houses the new 911 dispatch center. It features a sprawling 15,500 square foot warehouse stocked with medical and firefighting equipment, a 10,000 square foot fleet vehicle maintenance center and a state-of-the-art "burn building" where firefighters can hone their skills among real flames and smoke.
The old incident command center had 60 work stations for representatives the departments and outside agencies that come together during a storm or other emergency. The new center features 94 work stations and room for as many 250 people during a full scale activation.
The walls of the main building are 14.5 inches thick and can withstand winds of up to 200 mph. There's a industrial kitchen, spacious cafeteria and plenty of lockers and showers.
At the end of a hallway, a door opens into a warehouse stocked almost to its soaring ceiling with equipment ranging from ladders to latex gloves. A computer system tracks the supplies distributed to the county's 42 fire stations.
Tucked away in the back corner of the property is the firefighters' pride and joy — a fire training center that county officials say rivals anything else in Florida. The centerpiece is the three-story "burn building." Constructed of shipping containers, the interior can be layered with plywood and set ablaze to create recreate fiery, smokey conditions. The interior walls can be reconfigured to simulate the unpredictable maze-like confines that may await on the next call.
Before the center opened, county firefighters had to use shared training facilities, so they were at the mercy of other peoples' schedules, said training officer Chris Stark.
"Having our own facility here, especially one of this magnitude, is going to enable us to deliver seamless training to over 1,300 firefighters, and that's a good thing because we rely on our training," Stark said a few minutes after rappelling from the top of the burn building. "Firefighters' skills are like anything else. If they don't use them, they lose them."
Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.
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