Polk County pushes for $14.5 million state-of-the-art firefighter training facility in wake of fatal fire

A new firefighter training center, in the works for more than three years, appears to be getting closer to becoming reality. In the meantime, firefighters continue to train in a cluttered warehouse in Bartow built on a shoestring budget years ago by a former firefighter.

Recently when Polk County Commissioner Dr. Martha Santiago saw photos of the place, she was appalled.

"I was embarrassed," she said. "This is what we give our firefighters to prepare them for probably the most dangerous job? Saving lives?"

The idea of better training became a hot topic in 2018 when Loretta Pickard died in a house fire while was on the phone with 911 asking for help. Firefighters were outside but didn’t go in.

In the wake of that tragedy, an outside consultant made a number of recommendations to improve the system.

Most of the issues have been addressed, but a new training center is still just a concept.

"I think it is going to be significantly better," commented Polk Fire Rescue Chief Robert Weech.

RELATED Polk County commissioners approve $200,000 settlement in 2018 deadly fire

"I am proud of what we are able to do at Polk County Fire Rescue from a training perspective and they take advantage of what we have," he told FOX 13.


But he says a new facility would offer state-of-the-art technology and as close to real-life experience as possible.

The county has put aside $14.5 dollars to build the facility. No groundbreaking has been scheduled. The plan is for the facility to be complete within two years.