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Architecture firm addresses proposed Dickinson Public Safety Training Center

The estimated $32 million project — which is tentative to change over the course of planning and design and accounts for all three potential phases — would provide a fully funded Public Safety Training Center.

Senior firefighter Alaynea Decker, left, and former firefighter Dan Flathers use a water hose during a training exercise in September of 2020. Currently, the City of Dickinson's fire and police departments are looking at creating a Public Safety Training Center that expands its current training programs as well as incorporates programs and services to the public.
Senior firefighter Alaynea Decker, left, and former firefighter Dan Flathers use a water hose during a training exercise in September of 2020. Currently, the City of Dickinson's fire and police departments are looking at creating a Public Safety Training Center that expands its current training programs as well as incorporates programs and services to the public.
Contribtued / Dickinson Fire Department

DICKINSON — In January, the City of Dickinson awaited architectural input on a proposed Public Safety Training Center. On Tuesday, city commissioners listened to feedback provided on the proposal from Dickinson’s police and fire chiefs, as well as the project manager with LEO A DALY on what those master plans could be if the city were to move forward with the project.

For the past six months, Project Manager Todd LaVold of LEO A DALY has been working with the city’s fire and police chiefs, formulating what a training facility could look like for the City of Dickinson. Community engagement rose to the top of the list as to what Dickinson’s first responding chiefs wanted, LaVold reported to the Dickinson City Commission on Tuesday evening at City Hall.

The estimated $32 million project — which is tentative to change over the course of planning and design — would be a fully funded Public Safety Training Center that includes training for police and fire and an indoor public shooting range. The center would also feature community CPR classes, hunter safety, conceal and carry training and self defense classes.

“As we started talking, there was a big desire to have this facility open to the public and also be something that’s public-safety driven, but have the two married together so there’s a benefit for both,” LaVold said.

Dickinson Police Department

Some of the police training can’t always take place in Dickinson, which leaves the department having to drive elsewhere to receive that instruction. Currently, the DPD has 44 sworn officers and is growing to 50 sworn officers this year. On average, the police department completes 2,250 hours per year of total training — which includes SWAT, crisis negotiation, virtual reality simulator, taser and CPR training. Approximately $15,000, which excludes registration costs, is accounted for annual out-of-town training.

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“There certainly is a need for a regional training center — both on the police and fire side of things and in the western half of the state,” Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger said. “A lot of times, a lot of the classes and trainings now for both police and fire are on the eastern part of the state, which requires a lot traveling per diem cost and I certainly think there’s a spot for the area of Dickinson to become a regional training hub for both police and fire…. We could do a lot of good for public safety in our region and in eastern Montana.”

The current firearm training facility has limitations for Dickinson Police officers, such as that it is a one-hour round trip putting a time investment on when officers have access to the private outdoor range. The hours are limited as well as access. There are no accommodations for night shift personnel, now low light level shooting and limited ability to incorporate 21st century training techniques.

“... Talking about 21st century training… it’s about immersion into the environment and into the situation and they’re having a hard time doing that at the (outdoot) facility right now,” LaVold said.

Though the DPD also utilizes the Stark County indoor range, its “antiquated technology and infrastructure” with four lanes leaves police officers at a disadvantage, especially when trying to conduct tactical training, LaVold said, adding that the current indoor range is a “point-and-shoot range.”

“So 21st century policing, as we’ve worked across the country and (developed) quite a few of these types of facilities, it’s just not about firearms training; it’s also about when we talk about reality-based and immersion training being in the moment and scenario-based training,” he said. “While there’s some good facilities at the Public Safety Center right now, there are some limitations as far as search and rescue and stuff like that for police and fire alike.”

Dickinson Police officers performs training in March of 2021 at the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center.
Dickinson Police officers performs training in March of 2021 at the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

The proposed Public Safety Training Center could also be an extension to the police and fire department’s recruitment efforts, such as the Law Enforcement Academy at Dickinson State University, Citizens Police Academy and Youth Academy.

Dickinson Fire Department

Currently, the Dickinson Fire Department has 35 personnel — 22 EMTs, 15 officers, 11 drivers/operators and nine firefighters. Each year, the department completes 8,118 hours of training. Advance training accounting for 30% of all training is conducted outside of Dickinson at the cost of $25,000 to $35,000 annually.

Much like the police department, Dickinson firefighters are also at a disadvantage in terms of training limitations, especially with live fire.

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“While it’s great to have, it’s a little bit limited to a single level and the ability to be fixed. So it doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities for changing the situation, so there’s a muscle memory that doesn’t get exercised,” he explained.

Firefighting training opportunities include a live fire training tower that has multiple levels, ladder training situations and hose revolution situations.

“Newer modern towers have the ability to have flexible spaces to create those variations in training,” LaVold said.

This tower would also be accessible for law enforcement to use.

Another feature of the Public Safety Training Center is a “dirty classroom,” which will serve as a home base for firefighters to conduct indoor training that allows them to drive their fire trucks inside and practice maneuvers with ladders and hoses such as going up and down stairs.

What the project entails

Phase one of the project, estimated at $15 to $20 million in taxpayer funds, would include a building of approximately 38,000-square feet with a 12-lane 50-yard firing range (open), six-lane 50-yard firing range (fixed), reality-based training area or “dirty classroom,” looby/restrooms, support spaces, burn tower and driver training pad.

Moving into phase two, the project would then proceed with creating a classroom that would seat 80 to 100 people as well as expanding training rooms, lobby and kitchen. This phase is estimated at $3 to $4 million. The third phase, averaging between $6 and $8 million, includes additional parking to an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course training track.

In total, 50 acres would be set aside for this project and is being proposed at Southwest Eighth Street and 20th Avenue Southwest, which is a large piece of city-owned property and is where the DFD’s current training tower is located at.

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From March to November, the team will begin on consensus building and allocating funding with an operations analysis happening anytime between then and now if the city wishes. Design would take approximately six to eight months, followed by another six to eight months in bidding and contracting. Construction could take up to 14 months.

During the public hearing on this presentation, several community leaders voiced their concerns from Stark County Commissioners Bernie Marsh and Carla Arthaud to local business owner Andrew Kordonowy. Their main concern spoke on the public accessibility, background checks for those accessing the shooting range as well as ADA compliance.

“This is needed for our safety and our responders. This is needed. But it’s also something that’s needed in the community for a long time,” Mayor Scott Decker said. “... We just want to make sure that anybody that’s within our facility is a law abiding citizen and authorized to have a weapon.”  

The commission will continue its discussion on this proposed facility in the coming weeks. Decker noted that a public forum would be needed to gain feedback from Dickinson residents.

Officers from the Dickinson Police Department perform an annual training in March of 2021.
Officers from the Dickinson Police Department perform an annual training in March of 2021.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
Firefighters of the Dickinson Fire Department pose in front of a damaged vehicle in September of 2021 as part of its extrication training.
Firefighters of the Dickinson Fire Department pose in front of a damaged vehicle in September of 2021 as part of its extrication training.
Contributed / Dickinson Fire Department

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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