Barracks to become fire school

Whitehall and Bordon is to become a training hub for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service after former military land was dubbed “a firefighter’s Utopia”.

Described by the Hampshire Fire Service as an ideal “ghost town”, with no shortage of space and disused buildings, Prince Philip Barracks has found its near perfect interim use as a site for firefighter training, offering unprecedented opportunities to the service.

The 4,410-acre ex-Ministry of Defence site will eventually become home to Bordon’s new town centre and hundreds of new homes over the coming decades.

In the meantime the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Academy will use the barracks as a training venue that Fire Service bosses say will “allow exercises on a scale never before possible in the county”.

The Fire Service explained that the site – which is said to be the size of more than 2,000 football pitches – contains 95 buildings scheduled for demolition which will give firefighters the chance to practise live fires, rescue operations and disaster scenarios.

They will also be able to trial “new concepts and develop pioneering procedures”.

Gemma Davies, property manager at the Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration Company, hands over the keys to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service assistant chief officer Andy Bowers

Gemma Davies, property manager at the Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration Company, hands over the keys to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service assistant chief officer Andy Bowers

A base on the site has been leased by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service for five years in agreement with the Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration Company that says it can use other buildings depending on the redevelopment schedule.

Academy station manager Tim Pringle said: “I walk around this site and words fail me. The uniqueness of it – it is a mini-town.

“Usually you have constraints on what scenarios you can run and how you can run them. Here you just walk around and see endless possibilities. I have a big smile on my face – it is every fire service trainer’s dream. Working with Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration Company has given us this amazing opportunity.”

While many firefighters will use the facility through programmes run by the academy, it will also be available to crews to arrange team training.

Assistant Chief Officer Andy Bowers added: “In the ever-changing role of the Fire and Rescue Service it is absolutely essential that we give our staff the best and most realistic training. This site will give us the chance to train in a way that was never before possible. It will be absolutely invaluable in allowing us to hold the most realistic training scenarios and test out ground-breaking techniques.

“This will improve safety for the community and firefighters and improve operational effectiveness as we continue to strive to be the best service in the country.

“Firefighters want to train for every possible scenario so for us this is Utopia – a site that contains virtually every conceivable building and training venue that will allow us to test our personnel, tactics and equipment. What is practised and learnt on this site will save lives.”

A Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration Company spokesman added: “We are delighted that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has chosen Prince Philip Barracks as the location for training staff in the vital skills they need to serve our local community. While the long-term regeneration of Whitehill and Bordon takes place, it is important that the site is put to good use.”

Town, district and county councillor Adam Carew said: “As county councillor I sat on the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority for a number of years, until a few months ago, and I think it is a superb ‘meanwhile’ use of redundant buildings for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service training,” he said.

“My only caveat is that given the issues we have had at Louisburg regarding nested birds and protected bats, that such activity is only conducted once trained ecologists have surveyed the sites and proved they are free of wildlife. There are over 50 buildings out there that may be demolished in the next three years, so being a Hampshire Green Town it is vital they are surveyed before put to such dramatic ‘meanwhile’ use.

“Having watched our brave firefighters on numerous occasions, I think the site will allow the Fire and Rescue Authority to develop new techniques – such as wall-piercing high-pressure lances, new chemical formulas that douse fire quicker than water, even reconnaissance drones, and new safety equipment and rescue techniques.

“Although the main garrison site is protected by razor wire and security guards, empty properties are always a potential fire hazard so what a brilliant idea to turn this on its head and use some of the buildings for fire practice.”