Nestled at the end of Lookout Drive on the northern face of Sherrill Park Golf Course, the City has a high-security facility designed to test the mettle of first responders. Depending on the day, you could see flames engulfing a three-story building, vehicles overturned throughout a parking lot, or a tunnel system filled with debris and stranded mannequins from a simulated collapse. It is all part of the Richardson Fire Training and Emergency Operations Center that was designed to help the City prepare and respond to future emergencies.
Opened in 2013 as one of the 2010 bond program projects, the center houses the Office of Emergency Management and Fire Department training personnel. Most of the building is set up for training and operations and also serves as a base for specialized and reserve equipment.
“It’s really an all-encompassing facility,” Buddy Hughes, Battalion Chief of Training, said. “It’s given us a helpful resource. In 2014, when I assisted with the first Fire Academy held here, it was a major upgrade. The amount of training props and space available has made it an ideal location to host an array of training events for all levels. When other cities come here, they reiterate how nice the facility is and how functional the space is for training purposes.”
Outside, the Fire Department has a series of training areas for Fire Academy students and for continuing education. The center utilizes a mock structure and tower to train on maneuvers and safe practices. An underground pit area and manhole-entry tunnels provide for confined space and trench training. The department receives totaled cars and practices extraction techniques. A vehicle frame is set ablaze to practice safe approach and fire extinguishing.
“The training and high level of skills in the Fire Department are shown every day in our ability to respond to all emergencies in the city”, Curtis Poovey, Richardson Fire Chief, said. “The center has been helpful and the building is always being used.”
Activating the EOC
Attached to the fire training facility is the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This facility is activated when major incidents occur that need a larger organized and coordinated response.
“It’s like the spoke of a wagon wheel; everything comes from under this roof,” said Emergency Management Coordinator Alisha Gimbel.
When an F3 tornado swept through the Richardson community in October 2019, damaging hundreds of homes, housing units and businesses, the EOC coordinated response efforts including search and rescue, damage assessment, debris removal, resource support and volunteer coordination. For weeks, the department continued to coordinate tornado-related response, working with offices locally, regionally and nationally. Within Richardson, the EOC served as a lifeline for resources and information.
“I would be hard-pressed to find a City department that wasn’t involved somehow, ranging from the Police Department, to the Library, to Building Inspection, to the Tax Office,” Gimbel said. “We’ve seen other places where they try to manage an emergency from a parking lot or in a temporary location somewhere, but having a central building really helps. ”
The work at the building also doesn’t stop with response and recovery. With each activation or assistance activity, there is no “mission accomplished” moment. Each incident is followed by evaluations to see what can be learned, implement changes, and train accordingly.
“Ultimately, we want to serve Richardson residents,” Gimbel said. “We hope emergencies and disasters don’t happen, but if they do, we want to make sure we’re on our game. This facility helps us to do that and save lives.”