‘A dream come true’ – new fire training tower facility opens on campus

Fire and rescue training received a significant upgrade in Columbus County, when Southeastern Community College cut a ribbon in celebration of the college’s newest facility on Feb. 17. The seven-floor, three-story fire tower features tools needed for every practical skills requirement, other than burning, associated with the firefighter certification program at SCC.  

“This really is a dream come true,” said Dr. Sylvia Cox, SCC executive vice president. “This dream has been, at least, a decade in the making.” 

Brian Nelson, SCC Fire Director Coordinator, said the idea for a fire training tower originated with Whiteville Fire Chief David Yergeau. Once funding was secured and a concrete base was in place, SCC made the purchase from Affordable Drill Towers, a Texas-based company specializing in fire tower assembly. According to the company website, the tower is constructed of “high-strength, galvanized steel” that will not rust.  

Affordable Drill Towers employees arrived on Tuesday, Dec. 19, to construct the fire tower. The tower was completed in two and a half days. By Thursday, Dec. 21 at 5 p.m., Nelson did a walk-through of the structure that measured 42 feet from the ground to the top floor.  

Nelson explained that the fire tower met the requirements to be considered a training facility with having the appropriate land size that included parking spaces near R building. All firefighters are required to get 18 hours of facility training per year, and Nelson said the fire tower benefits Columbus County’s ISO score.  

ISO stands for Insurance Services Office, which is an independent, for-profit organization. The ISO scores fire departments on how they are doing against its organization’s standards to determine property insurance costs. Lower scores mean lower insurance costs, and higher scores mean higher insurance costs. 

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve been heavily involved in the fire association and working with the county to figure out how we can optimize the firefighters’ training,” said Dr. Chris English SCC president. “This fire tower brings together the culmination of ISO training needs in one location.” 

English explained that firefighters have previously needed to travel outside of Columbus County to receive the additional training needed to remain certified. He said that having the training tower on campus reduces the county’s fire rating along with reducing home insurance costs.  

“This is the largest class we’ve ever enrolled in our fire academy,” English said. “That’s significant for our youth who may already be involved in a fire department who can get into this fire academy, and there’s also a fire chiefs instructor course blended into the program. That allows them to get engaged with getting these certifications and their foot in the door in becoming a certified firefighter.” 

The fire tower features two ventilation props with a flat roof simulator and a pitch roof simulator. Three floors feature standpipe connections to connect hoses pumping water from a fire truck. The second floor is equipped with a sprinkler system with two sprinkler heads. Rope rescue training can be done on the tower.  

On Jan. 23, Whiteville City Council unanimously approved the donation of a Whiteville Fire Department firetruck to SCC. English said this was another example of “powerful partnerships” with the City of Whiteville and Whiteville Fire Chief Yergeau in addressing the shortage of firefighters in Columbus County. Owning a firetruck and housing it on campus removes the need for borrowing a fire truck from a neighboring fire station.  

“The county commissioners have supported this 100%, and they gave us $150,000 towards this project for site preparation and the metal building to house the fire truck,” English said. “This was in addition to our investment of a $200,000 purchase of the fire tower, so we have over $300,000 invested in this fire tower.” 

English said the fire tower’s ability to attract people to campus was other benefit. The tower and fire truck provided more training opportunities for fire and rescue employees at first responder symposiums held on campus every year.  

“We’re dedicated to giving our firefighters the training they need and the fire/rescue organizations the things they need to be successful in their job,” English said.