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Next phase of state-of-the-art firefighter training centre to go to tender with £30m price tag

Expected to be up and running by 2024, it is described as 'a huge investment, not just in our employees, but in the safety of everybody in Northern Ireland'

The second phase of the massive Northern Ireland Fire Service Training Centre in County Tyrone is about to go out to tender.

The development follows on from the construction of the £4.8m tactical firefighting facility which opened in September 2019.

Located at Desertcreat outside Cookstown, that facility provides a state-of-the-art training environment for firefighters, enabling them to train in ‘real fire’ facilities.

It is a first of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The unique six-storey structure, built by local contractors Henry Brothers Limited, has more than 30 compartments providing realistic operational scenarios using real fires, as well as welfare and classroom facilities.

The completion marked phase one of the new NIFRS Learning & Development Centre which is a Programme for Government project.

Now the process has begun to make phase two a reality – with a price tag attached of a cool £30 million, according to CIS.

It has many components and it is hoped to be in a position to begin the building work at the start of 2022.

A pre-planning application notice was submitted to Mid-Ulster District Council in August for the proposed development of a section of the original tri-service – NIFRS, PSNI and Prison Service – application site as their new learning and development centre.

Speaking at that time, Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Michael Graham said: “I’m really proud that, despite the challenges of COVID-19, we’re able to bring forward these plans for consultation in what is a huge investment, not just in our employees, but in the safety of everybody in Northern Ireland.

“Our Learning & Development Centre is a key cornerstone in the creation of a safe and effective, Fire and Rescue Service capable of responding not just to today’s challenges, but the challenges we will face in the future.

“This is also a significant financial investment in the Cookstown area.

“These plans include facilities which will mean our firefighters are able to train in state-of-the-art facilities which will give them crucial experience in dealing with the hazards they face while protecting our community.”

A prior information notice has now been placed for the construction of the new campus-style development on the NIFRS site.

It has many elements included in the plans which the successful contractor will be tasked to deliver.

It includes a learning and development centre, described as a “welcoming public face on arrival to the site” which controls access to the operational site beyond.

This two-storey building will contain classrooms, workstations, assembly hall, kitchen and dining area, as well as a gym and changing facilities to support firefighter training.

There would be a breathing apparatus charging facility, taking the form of a single storey modular building for the storage, maintenance, cleaning and refill of such equipment.

The learning and development centre will benefit from the provision of a generous car park providing some 90 spaces and concealed behind a band of existing woodland.

A training warehouse will take the form of a multi-storey building providing simulated training environments for marine, residential, industrial and commercial premises. It contains a training fire station with practical training classrooms and welfare facilities. It is surrounded by a large hard-standing area for vehicle circulation and manoeuvring.

There will be a drill tower, consisting of a steel frame structure for fire rescue and ladder training surrounded by hard standing for vehicle access and manoeuvring.

A flood water specialist facility will offer a training environment for flood and river rescue, and it will include a reservoir and channel where water can be controlled and diverted to simulate a range of rescue conditions.

This facility, according to stated requirements, will necessitate specialist contractor involvement to design and construct.

There will be an area of hard standing for water pump training and a ‘call out village’, a training environment which simulates domestic incident training and includes a bungalow, a semi-detached house and detached house.

And once again, the stated requirements dictate that this training facility will require specialist contractor involvement to design and integrate a specialist gas system into the building fabric and provide the associated control areas.

Also included in the massive new development is a search and rescue training area, giving an environment for collapsed buildings and below ground rescue.

An agricultural barn and slurry pit will replicate a typical rural barn and provides a realistic training environment for farmyard rescues, while also providing on site storage for NIFRS.

Other training facilities to offer realistic ‘rescue’ drills in the many diverse circumstances faced by firefighters will focus on hazardous materials – using simulated substances only – motorway and embankment collision training area, a specialist driving training area, to be enclosed by landscaping and planting, and a road traffic collision training network for various category of roads.

There will also be an extension to the single-storey welfare support building which was built as part of the first phase.

It is now expected that a contract notice will be published before the middle of next month.

And the successful contractor will have been selected and put in place by the summer of next year.

With work expected to start in the winter of 2022, it is hoped to be up and running by 2024, as the construction has been estimated to take two years to complete.

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