Santa Rosa Junior College’s Public Safety Training Center in Windsor Receives Funds

Simulating the real-life dynamics and behavior of a structure fire is no easy task, especially when your training equipment and facilities are dated and limited.

The no-frills, 3-story training tower at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Public Safety Training Center in Windsor has served its purpose during its 20-year tenure.

But at a time when destructive wildfires are more frequently crossing urban boundaries, proper firefighter instruction requires better training facilities and can mean the difference between life and death.

On Thursday, state Sen. Mike McGuire announced he had secured $1.5 million from the state’s general fund for a new 5-story, state-of-the-art training tower. He said the new tower, along with additional funds, is going to help dramatically increase the number of students going through SRJC’s firefighter academy, already a leader in its field.

SRJC officials welcomed news of the funding.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Sen. McGuire, his commitment to our community and his commitment to the county,” said SRJC President Angélica Garcia.

Garcia said the new tower would provide more complex training opportunities for fire academy students — a special breed who deserve the best education available, she said.

“Really we’re talking about folks who make it their vocation, their calling to save lives,” she said. “That’s actually pretty amazing.”

Ken Sebastiani, director of the SRJC’s fire academy, said the new training tower will provide numerous critical upgrades that will allow students to experience the varied and complex behavior of fire. For one, each floor will have multiple rooms to simulate a greater variety of exercises.

What’s more, the walls within the building will be adjustable to allow changes in the layout of the rooms on each floor, depending on the type of exercise being conducted. That feature can create more challenging exercises, he said.

“You truly want to make it challenging,” Sebastiani said. “When firefighters face dynamic situations (in training), their mind has kind of overcome some of these issues and hurdles.”

He said a firefighter who has been challenged in training can respond more effectively to real-life scenarios they’ll encounter in the future.

Sebastiani added that aside from being taller, the new building will also have a larger footprint that will accommodate more students training at the same time, highlighting the crucial aspect of teamwork in fighting fires.

At five stories, the new training tower will also allow students to get more advanced rescue training, including rope rescue exercises not possible with the existing building, Sebastiani said.

McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who shepherded the $1.5 million earmark, said Thursday he’s been meeting with SRJC fire academy representatives over the past year to discuss the need for more firefighters. Separate funds will bolster the program, he said.

Funds from PG&E’s wildfire settlements will help purchase additional training equipment and cover the cost of additional faculty, he said. Also, funds from Santa Rosa’s Measure H, extended in 2022, will be used to help modernize several buildings at the academy. The quarter-cent public safety tax also applies to services to reduce fire risk.

McGuire said the SRJC Foundation has also “pitched in” funds to grow and improve an academy that is already considered the “gold standard” in the state.

Altogether, the new training tower and additional funds for equipment, faculty and educational programming are expected to increase the number of students going through the program by 150%. The academy, recognized as one of the top in the state, currently graduates about 80 firefighters a year.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort to expand the number of firefighters here in the North Bay and throughout Northern California,” McGuire said. “The need has never been greater and Northern California is so lucky to have the top-ranked fire academy in the state in our own backyard.”