MCCTC Breaks Ground on $1.1M Fire Training Center

CANFIELD, Ohio — By January 2020, fire departments in Mahoning County will have a new million-dollar fire tower and training facility for recruits and existing firefighters.

On Tuesday, the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center broke ground on the $1.1 million project that will give current and future firefighters a safe, local place for hands-on training. The project is grant-funded and supported by local and state elected officials.

“We received $550,000 funding to the million dollar project a year and a half ago,” said John Zehentbauer, the superintendent at MCCTC.

Until recently, firefighters were trained using empty cargo containers donated to MCCTC, Zehentbauer said. “Our fire departments would drag these in and we would use them,” he said. However, the state fire marshal’s office deemed the containers were not up to the standard code and advised they could no longer be used to burn for training purposes.

“We knew we would have to build a fire training center to actually be able to continue to train firefighters,” he said. “The fire training piece itself is $400,000, and with all of the safety standards to protect our firefighters during training and others is a big piece of it.” 

Having such a training center in the county is vital, he said, as many firefighters must travel to Reynoldsburg or Canton to get the training they need. This makes it challenging to train new recruits and allow existing firefighters to keep their skills sharp, said Chief Mark Pitzer, Boardman Township Fire Department. 

“It’s a great benefit for the fire service in the Mahoning County because it’s going to make it easier for us to train our firefighters,” he said. “It’s also going to allow us to train new recruits more efficiently and effectively because of the simple fact that it will be available. It’s not always available that we have an abandoned building or a building or house being donated to us to train in.” 

For the last three to four years, MCCTC worked with county fire departments on the project. When complete, the multi-use training center will have classrooms, a four-story fire tower and a station/garage building for storage of the school’s fire engines and student gear. 

“Thirteen local fire chiefs from all of our local fire departments had to get together and set a common goal,” said MCCTC’s Zehentbauer. “We were able to put them together and meet, so when we decided we were able to move forward.”

The project provides a safe environment for MCCTC students at the high school level as well as the adult trainees to practice putting out fires, he said. County fire departments will have access to the center as well. Along with fire fighting, training can include live burns, search and rescue operations, rappelling and more. 

The sky is the limit with the new project, said Boardman Fire’s Pitzer, from training new recruits to offering “some advanced training with our existing firefighters.” Having an accessible facility in the area allows fire departments to expand the training they have. “We can put on additional classes and we’re hoping to open up new doors for fire service,” he said. 

MCCTC trains 15 to 20 students at the high school level and more than 100 adult-level students annually, Zehentbauer said. The new training center will offer short fire courses for up to 500 trainees. 

“Once it’s built they’ll be able to train locally,” Zehentbauer said. “They won’t have to drive to other cities, they’ll be able to train in a safe environment with certified instructors and we’ll be able to serve all of northeast Ohio.”

The project has been something MCCTC was in need of for a long time, said Andy Frost, public safety coordinator. His father is also a coordinator at MCCTC and, alongside Robert Tieche, a captain with the Cardinal Joint Fire District in Canfield, were influences on the million-dollar project. 

“For us, this has been such a long coming project. It’s going to increase the safety of our firefighters to no end,” Frost said. “When this community believes in a cause, they all come together and work as one and that’s exactly what’s happened here.”

Courses available for those interested include Firefighter Level 1 and Firefighter Level 2, which involves the trainees going through real life situations they may encounter on the job.  

“If they’re going to come in contact with a dangerous situation at a house fire, we don’t want it to be while they’re working; we want it to be while they’re training. So we will try and duplicate all dangerous situations so they know how to handle it,” Frost said. “When they see it in the field, it won’t be their first time seeing it.” 

MCCTC a success rate of 80% to 90% among its graduates, he said. The hands-on training will ensure those graduates add to a good public safety workforce locally and elsewhere, he said.

“Our instructors are all working firefighters in all of the communities around us, so we’re really training our peers,” Frost said. “We want to make that when they come out of this, they are trained to go to work the next day.”

Pictured: Attending Tuesday’s ground-breaking ceremony were (right to left), Mary Mihalopoulos, career transitions supervisor, MCCTC; Mara Banfield, career technical director/principal of iCONS and Machine; John Zehentbauer, superintendent; state Rep. Tim Ginter, R-5; Jim Armeni, Eastern Ohio Regional Liaison, Auditor of State’s office; Richard Scarsella, Boardman Township trustee; Marie Dockry, Austintown Fitch High School; Mike Stanko, CEO of Youngstown Elser Metro Airport; Kathy Zook, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments; Andy Frost III, public safety coordinator, MCCTC; Chief Don Hutchison, Cardinal Joint Fire District, Canfield; Chief Mark Pitzer, Boardman Township Fire Department.

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