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Regional Training Center

New York state fire instructor Brian Pendell talks about the work and funding that went into the new Cortland County Regional Training Center at the center’s dedication Saturday behind the Cortlandville Fire Department. By Scott Conroe, Staff Reporter

The men who train Cortland County’s firefighters want their students ready when the 911 calls come. They push volunteer and professional firefighters through 160 hours of “boot camp,” coaching them in everything from crawling through a smoke-filled building to entering through a second-floor window — or departing danger through one. They want firefighters to react quickly and safely.

Now county fire instructors Kevin Whitney, Brian Pendell and Mahlon Irish Jr. have the Cortland County Regional Training Center, behind the Cortlandville Fire Department’s main station on Tompkins Street Extension. The building, which was originally an auto dealership’s garage, has a classroom, a model house that simulates all sorts of scenarios and a structure where students can practice putting a ladder against a house and entering through a window.


The training center was dedicated Saturday in an hour-long program that recognized a range of local, county and state officials and volunteers. Firefighters from every county fire district attended. “We used to travel to dilapidated structures that the owner was going to tear down, and we’d use them for training,” Pendell told the crowd of about 180. “Now we have this. It’s a one-of-a-kind facility, something this county should be proud of.” Whitney, the county’s deputy fire coordinator, thanked a number of people who made the six-year project happen, from Cortlandville Fire District Chairman Jack Harvey, whose family helped assemble the classroom’s chairs, to the Homer and Marathon firefighters who designed the house’s interior, to people who found $140,000 in private, county and state funding.

The facility was dedicated to state Sen. James Seward, who provided $25,000 in taxpayer money. Whitney joked that he was surprised Seward supported the project after seeing pictures of the original building.

The classroom and its high-tech presentation equipment, which has 48 plush seats and room for 100 more chairs, was dedicated to Brenda DeRusso, the county’s assistant coordinator of fire and emergency management. This room has been dedicated in honor of Deputy Fire and Emergency Director Brenda S DeRusso for her enduring support in making the classroom a reality through her amazing and creative ability to provide funding. Brenda has made it her calling for over twenty years to make sure all emergency responders, agencies and citizens of Cortland County are prepared to handle major incidents and disasters and ensure we recover financially from them. For that reason this room is dedicated in her honor as our way of saying "thank you".
Whitney said her support and help in finding funds was invaluable. The classroom was dedicated on October 18, 2008 and has the nickname of "Disaster Lady" classroom.

The simulated house within the building was dedicated to Irish. The house starts with a door with a gas meter outside, which leads to two rooms inside, three kinds of circuit breakers (which firefighters must turn off), and a second floor with different kinds of room situations and a maze that firefighters must crawl through.

The facility’s sign acknowledges Pendell, who secured state grants totaling $59,000, including a $30,000 grant through the state’s Fire Act. He said the county provided $60,000, private donations brought in almost $5,000 and a golf tournament at Walden Oaks in 2002 raised $5,000. Firefighters began using the newer parts of the facility in September.

911 Center

A backup county 911 center still must be finished in a room adjacent to the classroom. The smoke machine that will send smoke through the house has not arrived yet. Whitney thanked the county Buildings and Grounds Department, which spent four months working on the facility, and the county Legislature and County Administrator Scott Schrader.


Pendell estimated that 200 firefighters had been trained in the county since 2004. Tom Wutz, chief of the state’s Office of Fire Prevention and Control Fire Services, also spoke as the person who trained Whitney, Pendell and Irish to be instructors. The three are Ithaca city firefighters and volunteer firefighters, Irish for Homer and Pendell and Whitney for Cortlandville. Pendell said he will look for another $400,000 to construct a “burn building” where firefighters can train amid real flames. “We always need to be better,” he said. “We still lose 100 firefighters each year across the nation. Everybody has to do a job, every piece of the puzzle.”
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