City of Beaumont 'permanently' closes fire school flooded by Hurricane Harvey
Flame City is no more. Officially known today as the Beaumont (TX) Emergency Safety Training complex, the 70-acre facility founded in 1966 that ranked as one of the country’s foremost industrial fire training schools has closed after sustaining heavy flood damage from Hurricane Harvey. Other than a notice on the homepage of the fire school website that the BEST complex has “permanently closed,” the International Safety Training Council, a non-profit organization that managed the facility has chosen not to comment. Located southeast of downtown Beaumont on the banks of the Neches River, the BEST complex appears relatively untouched today. However, damage to buildings and contents indicates that water stood as deep as seven feet during the August flooding. Chris Boone, Beaumont’s director of planning and community development, confirmed that the city council voted in October to release ISTC from a 30-year lease agreement to operate the city-owned training complex. The city is soliciting requests for proposals from interested parties as to the future of the BEST site, Boone said. Action on the lease agreement was only one item in a lengthy consent agenda approved by the council at its Oct. 10, 2017 meeting. The agenda states that the lease granted to ISTC in 2004 allowed them to terminate the agreement “if the premises are so damaged as to be unfit for occupancy.” ISTC filed notice with the city in September reporting “excess flood damage” from Hurricane Harvey. Beaumont experienced torrential precipitation during Hurricane Harvey, totaling 32.55 inches of rainfall.Flooding is nothing new at the location. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike also caused extensive damage to the training complex. BEST consists of nine full-sized live-fire training projects or “props,” plus another 13 props applicable to extinguisher fire training and three designed for interior structural live-fire training. Figures released by BEST in 2014 state that the school graduates nearly 3,000 firefighters annually. A spokesperson for BEST reported in 2014 that enrollment had seen a significant increase in the previous three years following closure of the University of Reno, Nevada Fire Science Academy. An important cooperative agreement with Texas A&M University’s Texas Engineering Extension Service was also credited for the increase. A history of the Beaumont Fire Department cited by the Beaumont Fire-Rescue website states that the fire school, originally dubbed “Flame City,” was built on reclaimed land salvaged from a former city dump. The original school, intended for area municipal firefighters, included a butane tank, simulated well head, gasoline tank truck, gasoline tank and oil pits. In the 1970s the training ground was expanded, becoming one of four industrial fire training sites recognized nationally by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under a partnership with Lamar University the school was promoted as a training facility for municipal, volunteer and private fire brigades nationwide. In 2004, the longstanding contract between the city and Lamar University expired. According to the Beaumont Enterprise, the city was spending $550,000 annually on the facility, nearly twice the amount of Lamar’s rent under the previous contract. Bids for the new management contract were submitted by ISTC, known then as the Industrial Safety Training Council; Texas A&M University and a joint Lamar University - Lamar Institute of Technology proposal. ISTC, a training group providing safety training for employees and contractors at nearly 60 industrial plants throughout the Houston-Beaumont region, won the contract. With the new contract, what had been known as the Beaumont Fire/Rescue Training Center was renamed as the BEST complex. ISTC continues to list a telephone number for BEST at the top of its website homepage, referring to training not requiring hands-on live-fire simulations. That training will now be conducted at ISTC’s Nederland headquarters. The last major live-fire training project added came in 2001 when BASF Corporation donated a chemical processing unit valued at $6 million. As for training, the last major event drawing an international enrollment was the XTREME Industrial Fire & Hazard Training in May 2016 sponsored by Williams Fire & Hazard Control. In 2017, WFHC moved the annual event to Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station after 22 consecutive years at the BEST complex.