County breaks ground for safety complex expansion

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:49

    SUSSEX COUNTY-County officials broke ground for a new law enforcement firing range on Tuesday, part of an expansion of the new Public Safety Training Facility. The $1.7 million indoor firing range will turn the former Sussex County Fire Academy into an expanded training facility for both firefighters and law enforcement officers. Ground was broken for an addition to the current classroom building, which will include a six-port firing range and additional classroom space. County officials say they hope to have the addition in use by March. The firing range will allow law enforcement officers throughout the county to train at a safer and more convenient location, said Detective Sergeant Mike Richards of the Newton Police Department. "This is a big step for county law enforcement," Richards said, adding that local police departments and county and state officials have worked for years to build a modern firing range and it was through the perseverance of people like Sussex County Freeholder Glen Vetrano that it's now becoming a reality. "We've gotten through a lot of obstacles to get this through," Richards said. Local police officers currently use farm fields to shoot their weapons into sand bags to meet the state mandated twice-yearly handgun qualification courses. The makeshift firing ranges offer no protection from snow, rain and other bad weather, and do not allow for simulation of nighttime conditions, a state requirement. Richards said Newton Police officers wear welding-type goggles to simulate nighttime conditions, since shooting is not done at night as a courtesy to nearby residents. The new range will have nighttime lighting, as well as environmental and health protection. A filtered air system will pull air away from the shooter to keep him from breathing in the residue from the firing. Bullet casings, which contain lead, will be swept away and kept from the natural environment. Currently, at outdoor ranges, officers have to pick up hundreds of the casings off the ground by hand. Bullets left in sandbags can cause lead to leach into the environment. Another advantage of the project will be classroom space adjacent to the firing range. Richards said training can go from classroom instruction directly to firing at the range. The 19-acre Public Safety Training Facility has been run by the county and was sold to Sussex County Community College earlier this year. Sussex County freeholders sold the complex, located on Route 655 in Frankford Township, to the college for $7.4 million. "Our vision is that the building is constantly being used for the betterment of Sussex County," said Dr. Bradley Gottfried, president of SCCC. He said county and SCCC officials hope to soon add EMS training, so that the facility encompasses all three phases of public safety. Gottfried said the college is a natural choice to lead the facility, in part because of its service to betterment of the county community as well as its experience with acquiring grants. "It makes sense for this training to come to the educational facet of the county," Gottfried said. "This is our business, quite frankly." Gottfried said the college will work closely with county law enforcement officials to operate the facility. An advisory committee has been formed of representatives from local police departments and the county Sheriff's Department and Prosecutor's Office to help oversee the facility. Gottfried said the college doesn't plan to change much in the fire training portion of the facility, which includes classroom instruction, a burn building simulator, a smoke building simulator and a new $1.3 million fuel spill simulator that opened in May. "This is running smoothly," Gottfried said. "We have outstanding instructors there. No question about it." He said the college hopes to get grant funding and expand the fire portion of the facility as it's needed. Sussex County Freeholder Glen Vetrano said the facility will benefit from the college's leadership. "This will raise the credibility of the fire academy to a new level," Vetrano said. "Now it's attached to a higher educational institution that can assist them in expanding their program."