New facility aims to help firefighters battle wildfires across the Panhandle

New facility aims to help firefighters battle wildfires across the Panhandle

Randall County, TX - Local fire crews say a multi-million dollar purchase by the Randall County Commissioners Court is helping them better protect the county and the Panhandle.

What used to be the Courts of Amarillo off Loop 335 is now the home base for the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Randall County Fire Department. It is now called the Happy State Bank Randall County Event Center.

Commissioners purchased the building along with 78 acres of land for about $2.5 million nearly two years ago. After $2.6 million in renovations, the facility is now up and running.

The Texas A&M Forest Service, a state agency that fights wildfires, said this type of multi-purpose building has been much needed in our area. The Forest Service now has more manpower and equipment stationed in the Panhandle than ever before. However, they did not have a permanent home or a place to keep their equipment until now.

"It's really a marriage between the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Randall County Fire Department," said Texas A&M Forest Service Regional Fire Coordinator Troy Ducheneaux. "We're able to provide them some assistance a lot quicker when needed."

Until now, the Forest Service housed their equipment across the county where ever there was some free space, like at a WT parking lot or one of the other fire stations. Ducheneaux said this new home, with all their equipment under one roof, will now cut their response time when a wildfire sparks. "So we were spread out all over the place. If we needed to respond, we had to go to those particular places, pick up that equipment and then come back and travel from there. With this being in one place, now we're able to respond anywhere in our coverage area 10 times faster."

The building also provides a large training room that can fit the Forest Service, multiple area fire crews and law enforcement all at the same time. When fighting fires, Ducheneaux said having the same training is key. "To be able to know what the other person is doing, without even thinking about it, you are able to just move right in, combine your forces and not even really have to talk about what that strategy is going to be to fight that fire. You just automatically go right in and start working those fires immediately."

Randall County Fire Chief James Amerson said he is thankful to have the Forest Service under their roof. "Being housed with the Texas A&M Forest Service is good for all of us because we learned in the wildfires of 2011 that there were better tactics we could use. We're trying to adapt to the national standard tactics for wild land fire fighting and we're encouraging all the departments around us to do the same."

Part of the facility also has space for local 4-H shows when not housing equipment.

Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10