The fire and rescue service recruits usually begin arriving at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy in Gaithersburg around 5 a.m. They spend much of the day practicing firefighting techniques in state-of-the-art burn buildings, learning how to save victims trapped in wrecked cars, and running drills to prepare for a Metro accident or other emergencies.
Police recruits, who also train there, rotate between the academy’s shooting range, defensive tactics gym and driving track. They use a high-tech video simulator to practice responses to confrontations, and act out live scenarios with veteran officers in mock residential buildings. Outside, motorcycle officers weave around a cone course for their annual in-service training. The activity is constant at the 40-acre site on Snouffer School Road, often going as late as 11 p.m.
Completed in 2016, the $69 million facility is where the Montgomery County Police Training Academy and the Fire & Rescue Training Academy prepare new recruits for the job and help current employees keep their skills up to date. In the main academic building, recruits move as a group in single file from the classrooms to the gym and other locations. Becoming a firefighter or a police officer in Montgomery County isn’t easy: Only about 5% of those who apply are selected, and the training lasts about seven months.
“We prepare for the worst day every single day here,” says Assistant Chief Adam Jones, the training chief for fire and rescue. “It’s like working out—sets and reps, so by the time you do it, it’s automatic.”
Bethesda’s Yann Le Renard, a member of the county’s 140-person Technical Rescue Team, rappels from the roof of a high-rise burn building on the grounds of the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy. Inside, the building has an elevator shaft where the team can practice rescues.
Police recruits receive 94 hours of firearms instruction, including training under low light at an indoor range, where officers are stationary and the target moves. Experienced instructors stand behind the recruits while an officer in a glass-enclosed booth speaks into a microphone in a calm voice to give directions: “When the target faces, you will have eight seconds to step laterally and fire three rounds. …Ready.” Officers return annually for handgun training and every six months for rifle training, and must pass accuracy tests in order to carry a firearm. They also practice at the police academy’s tactical range, where officers move around while shooting at targets, and at an outdoor facility in Poolesville.
Fire and rescue recruits spend about 700 hours in the classroom learning from experienced firefighters about hazardous materials response, emergency medical response, driving and operations, fire and injury prevention, and interacting with the public. For police, topics include the use of force, constitutional law, ethics, implicit bias, mental health first aid, forensics and patrol procedures.