Owens Community College is expanding its reach to area law enforcement agencies by renovating its emergency services training program facilities with their input.
The restructuring will allow local agencies to train at the Oregon Road site in Perrysburg Township at significantly lower prices, making the program more accessible to more communities.
Three Ottawa County departments – the Clay Township and Genoa police and sheriff’s department – have included the training program into their 2013 budgets.
The center sports a 150-acre training site that is home to some of the most significant training simulators found in the United States, including a five-story computer controlled fire tower, water/ice rescue simulators, a driving pad and shooting ranges.
“Owens is trying to use the Center for Emergency Preparedness for what it was designed for,” said Clay Township Police Chief Terry Mitchell. A key objective to its opening more than 10 years ago was to become a crucial training hub for emergency services personnel throughout the region, he explained. “But that never materialized,” he said, because access was basically limited to academy personnel and Toledo police, he said.
Mitchell is one of a number of Northwest Ohio police and fire chiefs who responded to an invitation from the new center director Mike Cornell to help Owens revamp its program.
“I wanted to know why they have a driving training pad and we couldn’t use it,’ Mitchell said.
After listening to Cornell at the first meeting, Mitchell’s enthusiasm about the pending changes grew and he then urged Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick to join the advisory board with him. Mitchell credits Cornell for pushing through the changes.
Attempts to reach Cornell for comment were unsuccessful.
“I’ve got to commend the guy. Everything he has done is phenomenal,” Mitchell said.
Advisory board members have had a strong influence on structuring the new classes. There are a range of opportunities, from high-tech issues to learning new techniques in burglary investigation and improved back up procedures. In all, there are 218 training hours available.
Still, there was a critical element to be addressed if this was going to work, Levorchick said.
“It was a good idea but we laid it on the line. If it wasn’t going to be cost effective then why do it?” said Levorchick, who sits on the financial board along with Mitchell. Communities, large and small, are struggling financially in post recession days and aren’t about to dole out extra cash for training classes.
He noted sending a single deputy to a three-day training program at the police academy in London, O., could cost up to $2,000. That amount included the class cost, room and board and food expenses. Adding to the cost were overtime monies spent to cover that deputy’s regular shift.
“Departments today just don’t have that type of money available,” Levorchick insisted.
Owens management responded by approving a new fee schedule.
The fee cost breakdown, according to Levorchick, is: Small department (units of 1 to 24 personnel) - $302 annually; medium department (25 to 90 personnel) $703; and large department (91- plus personnel) $1,005.
And training won’t be limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mitchell said. Classes will also be designed to allow second and third shift employees to attend during those evening hours. That allows those staffers to maintain their attentiveness, Mitchell said, since their body clocks could be disrupted by a time change.
The annual fee allows department heads to send as many staff members to as many classes as they want to a year, Levorchick.
As a result, local departments will be getting some of the best training in the nation for a low price, Levorchick said.
That’s what swayed Genoa Police Chief Bob Bratton to join the new training program.
He took over the office about a year and half ago and is rebuilding a department that had been struggling with management and employee issues for months. As a result, proper training was hardly addressed. Now, Bratton can send staff on the short jaunt to the nearby facility on a regular basis at a cost that won’t break his budget, he said.
“What they are offering us is an unbelievable opportunity,” Bratton said.