Meridian Star

Local News

July 6, 2014

Training grants help facility grow

MERIDIAN —     Bunky Partridge, Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security director, said his first year since being reappointed by Mayor Percy Bland has been a productive one.

    Partridge left the department in 2009 at the beginning of former mayor Cherri Barry's administration. Bland said he wanted Partridge to pursue more grant funds.

    Partridge said despite recent budget cutbacks, he has been able to acquire seven state grants from the State Homeland Security Department totaling $362,734 for the Meridian-Lauderdale County Public Safety Training Facility on Sandflat Road, which offers training to law enforcement and public safety personnel.

    "The State Homeland Security Department sees this facility as a win-win," Partridge said. "They can come over here; we can house students. We can train students onsite. We can feed them here onsite. Once students arrive at the facility for training, they don't have to leave because we provide them everything they need at a low cost for the State Homeland Security. We have trained probably 1,500-1,600 students just in the past year, just on the homeland security side. That does not include the police, fire, other other students we train."

    Partridge said grants are awarded based on need.

    "We have to apply for the grants through the state," Partridge said. "When we apply for them, we are saying there is a real need for training in Mississippi, and they respond back to us asking what kind of training we provide. If for example we were awarded a $100,000 grant, the state writes us an award letter for that amount. The state would say something like, 'I want you to do six Overland Search and Rescue (OSAR) schools. We are going to send you thirty students for each class. Buy the students equipment and everything they need with the grant we are giving you.' So that is how we get the grants and how we utilize them."

    Partridge stresses the funding the facility receives helps to make it one of the most unique training facilities in the state.

    "You have the Mississippi Fire Academy, which only firefighters go though," Partridge said. "You have the Law Enforcement Academy, which only law enforcement go through. Here we train police, fire, emergency management, EMS, and public works. We are all work together here. Why do we do this? After 9/11 we lost 343 firefighters in the World Trade Center and I believe one of the reasons we lost some of them is because police and firefighters were not in communication with one another. So now we make sure we train them together and work together. When we get on an emergency scene together, we know each other and we work well together."

    Partridge said he feels like the administration has done a good job in letting the facility do what they feel needs to be done.

    "They are supporting us 100 percent," Partridge said. "By the grants we have been awarded and the students we have come through our facility, I think we have been really successful. It is just going to get better. We are going to continue to get better by building better props and reaching out to companies and businesses. We helped train the Kemper County Coal Plant firefighters for example."

    Partridge said, former may John Robert Smith decided to build the training facility in 1995 for firefighters and police officers. The facility sits on 99 acres of land that belong to the city.

    The facility consists of a multiple classroom buildings, shoot houses, a multi-story drill tower with live fire rooms, shooting ranges, canine kennels, an obstacle course, housing for students, and a "derailed" Amtrak passenger train.

    "We are one of only two facilities that have a an Amtrak set-up like this, the other being Texas A&M University," Partridge said. "In the early 2000s we went to Washington D.C. and met with the Federal Railroad Administration and told them there were not any schools in the United States to teach first responders how to respond to an Amtrak passenger vehicle. Somebody needs to know how to turn the train's power off, pop the windows off, know the locations of bedrooms, because people sleep on these trains. These derailments could happen anywhere in our area from Meridian, Russell, to Toomsuba. These trains travel from New Orleans all the way to New York."

    Partridge previously had a 29-year career with the fire department, with the last nine years as fire chief, when he left to organize the Homeland Security/Public Safety Training Facility.

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