Academy History

During the mid 1970’s the Fire Chief’s Association of Indiana County, Training Committee began sponsoring training programs for local fire fighters. The first formal, fire fighter training weekend was held in September 1977 and several course programs were offered during this single weekend. Also, in the late winter and early spring of 1978 a basic fire fighter 45-hour training program was sponsored. The weekend program and basic fire fighter training were presented at the Homer City Volunteer Fire Department station and grounds as well as at the Homer Center High School. Live fire training and other special programs were held at various locations throughout the county, where a building or other suitable situations could be obtained for providing the training. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Continuing Education Department and the Williamsport Community College were cosponsors of these early training sessions. IUP Con-Ed Department provided documentation of student attendance and certification and the Williamsport Community College provided funding for State Fire Academy instructors for programs offered in the State Fire Academy format. These events were very successful and attendance for the annual weekend averaged 150 to 200 participants. Beginning in the early 1980’s the need for a fixed fire training facility was evident by the success of the weekend program format and the continued need for new recruit training. The “Fire School Committee”, as it came to be known by the Association members, made contact with several local industry leaders and elected officials for assistance in acquiring land and financial assistance to build a fixed facility. The first Indiana County Fire School was located on Tide road, in Center Township, on land donated by Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company. Funding for site development and burn building construction was acquired through local state legislators and county government officials. The original site included the two-story concrete block burn building, a flammable liquids burn area, pumper drafting area, student/apparatus parking areas and a small picnic area. Staying close to the Homer City area allowed for the continued use of the Homer City Fire Station for program coordination and the use of the Homer Center High School for classrooms and meals. Several years into the development of the fire school site, R&P Coal Company asked the Fire School Committee to trade their partially developed site for another location on what is now Fire Academy Road. This offer from R&P Coal presented the Committee with a larger piece of property, with access to a stream, city water systems and direct access from Route 119. Site development got underway immediately with the installation of roadways, water lines and fire hydrants. The first building to be constructed at the site was the burn building. This time the Committee decided to build a formed concrete building with a single story commercial storefront and a two-story residential structure. Other buildings were designed and constructed, as funding became available. Originally an attempt was made to use donated mobile homes that were renovated and used as classrooms at the site. With the single annual weekend training format the mobile homes were a cheap and easy way to move some classroom training to the site. However, due to lack of use for long periods the mobile homes did not work for more than a couple years. Construction of another building on the site was completed for use as a program coordination office and equipment storage area, also included in this structure are restroom and shower facilities for course participants. Due to the single weekend format this building was originally constructed without a heating or air conditioning system. Today this building continues to be used as a men’s and women’s shower and restroom facility, the committee office area has been remodeled for use as a small classroom and the storage garage contains the Academy’s air compressor systems and instructor’s self contained breathing apparatus. Heating and air conditioning have been added for year round use. The current large classroom building was originally built as a large picnic pavilion. In cooperation with National Environmental Education and Training Center (NEETC) funds were acquired to enclose the picnic pavilion and construct a classroom, instructor locker room, restrooms, small-equipment storage area and office and record storage space. The ladder tower structure was constructed with donated materials from various local utility companies, gas well companies, private individuals and volunteer fire companies. Building additions at the site continued throughout the 1990’s with the addition of the apparatus garage building and Special Medical Response Team (SMRT) office and storage areas. This building was constructed with loan funds and is currently being leased to the SMRT for their use as a regional headquarters. The Confined space simulator was constructed with grant funds received from local industry and built with input from our corporate clients and State Fire Academy administration. Incorporated into the confined space area is a trailer containing a smoke maze used by individuals testing for National Professional Board Certification and fire fighters in training. Throughout this period repairs to the original burn building have been made to provide for safety and continued use of the structure. In 2002 the flammable liquids burn area was redesigned to make it compliant with Department of Environmental Protection standards. This project included the construction of a concrete slab, with a containment system for control of any accidental hydrocarbon spills and the placement of burn pans for live fire scenarios. In 1989, following the death of Fire School Director William A. Waugh, the Fire School site was rededicated and renamed “The Indiana County, William A. Waugh, Fire Academy”. Bill’s commitment to development of the site was his passion following his retirement from Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Fire Chief of the Armagh & E. Wheatfield Vol. Fire Company. Very shortly after the dedication of the site to Bill’s memory, Fred Smith Sr., Homer City Volunteer Fire Company Chief, Fire Chief’s Association President and Fire School committee member passed away. In honor of Fred’s dedication to the Fire School development the Burn Building was dedicated in his memory. The Academy Committee recently completed the construction of an apparatus building, specifically for fire apparatus storage and indoor training area. Two fire engines are being placed in service to be utilized in place of the current 1962 International engine. Live fire training scenarios, sanctioned by the Pa. State Fire Academy, require at least two engines in use for safety reasons. For Certification testing the addition of these engines will reduce our dependence on local fire companies providing apparatus. Beginning in the early to mid 1990’s, as physical changes were being made at the Academy, the structure of the training programs also changed. The annual single weekend format was seeing a decline in student attendance and individuals were requesting programs to be offered at other times. The Fire School Committee decided to present additional programs in conjunction with the annual weekend format. Attendance at these year round programs increased dramatically. Eventually the “Annual Fire School Weekend” was dropped and a year round course program was adopted. In conjunction with the year round training schedule, local industry users began renting the site for training of their emergency response personnel. This use by local industry emergency teams expanded rapidly to out of county, and in some cases out of state, industry emergency teams. The Academy provides the facility, apparatus and in some cases the instructional staff for this industry training. A cooperative agreement continues to exist with Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Emergency Services Training Center (IUP-ESTC). The IUP-ESTC annually leases the site, apparatus and equipment for their industry training programs, Emergency Medical Technician courses and Department of Health Rescue courses. The Academy provides space for storage of IUP-ESTC equipment at no charge for the opportunity to use the equipment as needed for other programs. In 2002 the Academy hosted its first National Professional Qualification Board Certification testing. With the assistance of the State Fire Academy and Somerset County Fire School, the Indiana County Public Safety Academy certified test evaluators to present testing as part of the annual schedule. These certification examinations include written and practical skills testing following National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for professionalism. Currently the Academy is one of only three facilities in the Commonwealth that offers Pro Board Certification in Hazardous Materials Awareness/Operations and NFPA 1006 rescue programs including General Rescue, Rope Rescue, Vehicle/Machinery Rescue and Trench Rescue Technician. Throughout 2005 and 2006, the Academy worked with CQ Inc. to accept the donation of large donation of land and buildings currently being used as the companies corporate headquarters. This project spurred the Academy to seek status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational provider, which was granted by the IRS in early 2006. Before the donation transaction was complete a buyer came forward to purchase the land and buildings. This real estate transaction has provided the Academy with a financial cushion never before available for operations and development. As mentioned earlier, local training courses are offered on a continuing basis. Curriculum outlined by the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, National Fire Academy or other accredited national organizations is presented. This format of course offerings is used to guarantee that attendees receive a standardized program format that meets their agency or individual requirements for advancement. The Pennsylvania Department of Education supports many of the programs through their Educational Training Agencies (ETA’s). The ETA’s contract the lead staff instructors in some more technical programs assistant instructors are also contracted. Support staff including apparatus operators, safety personnel and any additional instructional staff is provided by the Academy. This arrangement helps to keep the Academy’s costs for presenting these programs at a reasonable amount. This arrangement also permits the Academy to develop an instructor-in-training program. Individuals in this group have not yet met all the requirements of the State Fire Academy for recognition as an instructor, they are in the process of completing their training and the experience they gain by participating in presentation of programs helps with their completion of the process. The current Public Safety Academy Board of Directors is committed to continued site development with state of the art facilities, advancement of those individuals interested in teaching emergency services knowledge and skills, providing high quality training programs and continued expansion of Professional Certification testing opportunities. This commitment has been the core of this organization from the beginning.