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Atlanta public safety training center plan includes ‘fully functioning’ fire station; details unclear

A site plan of the public safety training center showing the training fire station. (Image by Atlanta Police Foundation)

By John Ruch

Atlanta’s public safety training center plan includes a “fully functioning” fire station serving the city’s Southeastern area, a major component that has not been detailed in the secretive public review process amid protests focused on police training uses.

Details on the need and cost of such a station, which would sit about a mile away from an existing DeKalb County fire station, are unclear. The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD) initially denied the fire station plan until SaportaReport provided confirming evidence, then acknowledged it is true but did not respond to further questions.

Public presentations about the training center have always included a “training fire station” along with such other practice facilities as a “burn tower.” In a Jan. 28, 2022 email exchange with the City’s Department of Enterprise Assets Management (DEAM) obtained through an Open Records request, AFRD Chief Roderick Smith clarified that the training fire station is expected to eventually become a fully functioning station as well.

“The Fire Station located at the Key Road Project should be equipped to serve as a fully functioning station,” wrote Smith. “The current service model for the COA [City of Atlanta] is constantly changing with development. As such, this location will assist AFRD with servicing the Southeast side of town. The primary purpose will be to train incoming members on the daily activities of station life. The activation of this station will be based on staff capabilities and will become a fully functioning station as soon as resources permit.”

“The station will respond to all calls on the public safety property and the city limits that are in close proximity (like traditional stations),” added Smith. He said the facility should have sleeping quarters for 10 firefighters and at least two, and preferably three, truck bays.

The planned training center site is on City-owned land, but outside the City limits on Key and Constitution roads in unincorporated DeKalb County. DeKalb’s Fire Station No. 10 is about a mile east on Constitution Road. The emails say nothing about coordination with the DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department.

AFRD gave unexplained, contradictory answers about the fire station plan. When initially asked about Smith’s email to DEAM, AFRD spokesperson Alyssa Richardson replied, “My apologies for the incorrect information you were given. The new Public Safety Training Center will not have a full working fire station.”

Meanwhile, Shirley Anne Smith, executive director of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation (AFRF), which helps fund the department’s activities, told SaportaReport: “To my knowledge and conversation with the fire chief, the fire station is slated to be a fully equipped fire station.”

When told about the AFRF’s response and more details about the chief’s emails, Richardson replied with a single sentence: “The station will be fully operational and placed into service just as any other station in the city.”

Richardson did not respond to questions as to why she initially denied the plan and what its operational reason and budget details might be.

“We will defer to the City of Atlanta to discuss its plans for any proposed facilities on its property,” said County spokesperson Andrew L. Cauthen III, who did not respond to further questioning about the coordination or communication of that planning.

The City press office, which also recently began answering media questions on behalf of training center lead planner the Atlanta Police Foundation for unexplained reasons, did not provide comment about the fire station but asked about contacting AFRF.

The training center plan is being reviewed by an Atlanta City Council-created body called the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC), which has had repeated transparency issues and very little discussion of the firefighter training details. At a July 2022 CSAC meeting, AFRD First Deputy Chief James McLemore gave a presentation broadly discussing the benefits that the new facility would have for the department’s training. The presentation did not detail the workings or budget of a fully functioning fire station. The purpose of the presentation was unclear as it came very late in the process, months after the site plan was finalized and an application was already filed for a land disturbance permit for construction preparatory work. Richardson at the time would not answer questions about the presentation.

In an earlier planning mystery, Shirley Anne Smith, the AFRF executive director, denied having a role in the controversial, behind-closed-doors selection of the DeKalb County site, contradicting an official City site selection report.

A list of proposed facilities in that report included a “fire station.” Chief Smith’s 2022 email was in response to a request from DEAM Deputy Commissioner Chris Davis to confirm that “training fire station” also meant a “fully operational fire station that will respond to fire calls etc.” and to provide details on what that would require.

The City is the midst of a program of renovating or rebuilding its aging fire stations, sometimes with controversy about the costs.

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