It stands 40-feet tall, with a footprint of 550 square feet. From the outside, it might look like a four-story building with gray siding, but for the students in the Fire Services Program at Maxwell HS of Technology, the newly opened fire training tower gives an inside view and hands-on experience in a potential career, right on campus, and in the same training facility that will be used by county firefighters.
“The tower may not be a luxury skyscraper, but it is something we can all be proud of,” said Gwinnett County Public Schools’ CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the tower. “It’s something that will benefit the students, the fire department, and, more importantly, the citizens of Gwinnett County. It represents what’s right about the county.”
The new tower is a joint project of Gwinnett County Public Schools and Gwinnett County Government. The $600,000 tower was funded with $530,000 in SPLOST revenue from the county and the balance was funded by GCPS.
“I always try to remember that it’s the voters who have given us the resources with which to do good things for the community like this tower,” said Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash of the venture. “It’s not unusual for the Gwinnett County school system and the Gwinnett County Government to work together on projects. We’ve done a lot of amazing things over the years together and I expect that is going to continue. This is just the latest chapter in that cooperation and the good things that we’re able to do together.”
Maxwell, a career-centered school open to all GCPS high school students, offers several programs that lead to public service jobs, including Fire and Emergency Services, Law Enforcement Services, and Therapeutic Services (Healthcare). Crews from nearby Fire Station 20 provide mentoring and instruction to Maxwell students in these allied programs.
“The addition of the fire tower on our campus broadens the entire learning experience for our students,” says Dr. Jeff Hall, Maxwell principal. “With the exception of live burns, our fire services students are able to receive training comparable to current Gwinnett County Fire Department recruits.”
The tower will allow both students and firefighters to practice responding to and mitigating emergency situations in multi-story buildings. The facility will provide a host of training opportunities, including search and rescue operations, using a breathing apparatus, emergency medical care, hose advancement, fire sprinkler and standpipe systems, ground and aerial ladder placements, and hoisting techniques. The training tower is believed to be the only facility of its kind located at a high school, according to Fire Chief Casey Snyder who says an Idaho school program has access to a tower, but not on campus.
At the ribbon-cutting, Mr. Wilbanks noted that the jobs for which our students are training are community-based and in constant demand. Echoing those sentiments, Dr. Hall added, “You can’t outsource what our Maxwell students are learning.”
To date, Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services has hired 12 former Maxwell students, and more recruits are in the pipeline at the county’s Fire Academy.
Student Sebastian Loera Cardona, who attends both Maxwell’s firefighting program and Mountain View HS, is looking ahead to a possible career in emergency services himself and appreciates the real-world training. He said, “To everyone who contributed to making this tower, this is a great opportunity for everyone. Thank you.”
- A fully equipped firefighter carries 85 pounds of gear.
- Currently, Maxwell has 30 students enrolled in Firefighting classes and 52 students enrolled in Emergency Medical Responder classes.
- It takes 95 steps to get to the top of the 40-foot tower. (Carrying all that gear!)
Photography courtesy of Gwinnett County Government—Communication Division
About Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services
Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services provides fire protection and emergency medical services for nearly a million Gwinnett citizens, responding to more than 78,000 calls for help annually. With 916 staff members, the department operates 31 fire stations with 31 engine companies, 11 ladder trucks, and 29 ambulances. All emergency response vehicles are staffed with emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics and carry essential medical equipment for advanced life support. Trained teams also are in place for technical rescues, response to hazardous materials, and swift water rescue situations.