Opinion: Former El Paso fire training director continues to oppose plans for new academy site
By Alan G. Parsons
I recently attended a meeting conducted by the City of El Paso’s Capital Improvement Department regarding the Police and Fire Joint Training Facility to learn more about the project, share ideas, and to meet the team designing the new Police and Fire Joint Training Facility. Having done so, my opinion remains the same. Don’t build the new facility in the mountains.
There are many in city government that would have us believe that the Police and Fire Joint Training Facility should be in North Hills. They conduct their business behind closed doors that lack the transparency that we as a community not only deserve but demand.
The proposed location will occupy 50 to 100 acres against Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and will be surrounded by 1,400 acres of dedicated open space at a cost of $3 million. Compare this to the Lost Dog project which saved 1,200 acres at a cost of $12 million. Although 50 to 100 acres has been mentioned in the proposal with a utilization of 65 acres initially, it is now to be understood that 300 acres were purchased by the city for the facility.
The Lost Dog area was decided by a municipal vote of the citizens after an extensive petition process. Why can’t the North Hills location be saved in the same manner?
Unfortunately, some of those who were instrumental in the Lost Dog process have now joined and are participating in this lack of transparency initiative they were so opposed to. They would like us to believe they speak for all the citizens of El Paso and that this is a golden opportunity to locate the public safety facility that is not only reasonable but a synergistic agreement between all concerned parties.
Not so. It is their synergistic agreement that suggests this is but a small sacrificial footprint (their words) on the mountain for a needed project.
How many small footprints of our beautiful Franklin Mountains must be sacrificed? This is a fair question as we continue to grow as a city. One of El Paso’s most appealing attractions is our beautiful Franklins. When will the decimation end?
Let’s start by looking at all the information provided about this project. There is a lack of valid information, and much of what has been provided is misleading.
I am adamant against this location for a number of reasons, many of them because they contradict National Fire Protection Association standards that are commonly adopted by the city as necessary for public safety.
The NFPA is a global nonprofit organization established in 1896. Its mission is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating scientifically based consensus codes and standards, research, training and education. The NFPA is the leader in providing fire, electrical, and life safety standards in this country.
These standards have been trivialized by a member of the Fire Department’s administrative staff. When asked about what consideration of the NFPA standards were analyzed when choosing a location for this project, a Fire Department assistant chief responded that the standards are merely suggestions.
They are written and adopted as standards, not suggestions. Is the Fire Department only to follow the standards when they suit the department’s needs and as suggestions when they don’t? NFPA Standard 1402 on Facilities for Fire Training and Associated Props provides a long list of consensus codes that are not commonly referred to as suggestions. I will focus on those more relevant to site location.
The NFPA states that fire training and associated props should not be “located adjacent to neighbors who cannot tolerate noise, smoke, lights at night, or other disruptions inherent in fire training.”
The approved location of the Academy is 1,162 feet to the north side of the North Hills neighborhood.
The NFPA also states that fire training should be accessible via roads that are not located near residential areas and that the location should be “away from the center of community life to minimize negative impact on adjacent land use.”
The current approved location of the academy is adjacent to the North Hills community and will be across the street from the 2,300-acre Paul Foster and partners development, a self-contained residential area with 9,500 dwelling units, schools, shops, parks, recreational facilities, and commercial. Nearby will be the Municipal Management District recently approved by City Council which is said to be similar to the Monticello development.
The NFPA states that fire training facilities should be “as centrally located as possible for the departments and personnel that will be using it, to minimize travel time and remoteness from protection districts.”
I don’t think anyone in El Paso would say that the approved location is centrally located. It is not far from the Texas-New Mexico state line.
The NFPA states, “Vehicle traffic patterns should be studied, and the most convenient route to the training center should be identified. Heavy, noise-producing apparatus should be routed to avoid residential areas. Travel time to the training center for users should be taken into consideration.”
The approved location for the academy is accessible only by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There are no other options for traffic to access the academy.
The current location was not part of any of the past or current master plans that I am aware of.
Aside from the NFPA standards, there were two interesting questions posed at the meeting.
One question asked for the opinions of the Police and Fire Department representatives as to whether they believed this to be a good location. The representative from the Fire Department said he believed it to be a “great” location— stating that since police and fire work closely in the field they should train together. While he did answer the question, his response did not address if the departments could effectively train together anywhere else?
The second question was asked by the president of the El Paso Firefighters’ Association and it referenced funding and whether increased costs due to the current economic conditions would cause some of the funds slated for the joint facility to be used if the location were moved further north near the quarry. The response was no; the city had to provide and pay for utilities wherever the location.
Also present were representatives from the city’s Open Space Advisory Board and the Bond Oversight Advisory Committee, who showed concern that within the 1,500-acre location the joint facility was originally shown to be further from the neighboring homes than it appears to be now.
Additionally, I am concerned that El Paso Water’s Storm Water Master Plan shows that both Northeast North Hills dams are at risk of failure. One dam has a risk value of Priority A, the greatest risk, and the other dam has a risk value of Priority B, the next greatest risk.
Unfortunately, the city has once again set the stage for constituents being angry and upset with the disrespect shown to those attempting to do right for the citizens of El Paso.
Alan G. Parsons retired from the El Paso Fire Department in 2011 after almost 30 years of service, including 10 years as director of the Fire Training Academy. He lives in Northeast El Paso, near the site of the proposed training facility.
Cover illustration: An artist’s rendering of a proposed joint fire/police training facility in Northeast El Paso, courtesy of the city of El Paso.