The addition of a small gym at the city's fire training center is adding muscle to Pine Bluff Fire & Emergency Services personnel and strengthening protection of city residents in the process, Fire Chief Shawn Howell figures.

The addition of a small gym at the city’s fire training center is adding muscle to Pine Bluff Fire & Emergency Services personnel and strengthening protection of city residents in the process, Fire Chief Shawn Howell figures.

Howell estimated the cost of constructing and equipping the facility at about $150,000, with federal and state grants covering a portion of the expense. Much of the remaining balance was satisfied with city funds already budgeted for departmental training, he said.

“Firefighting requires physical conditioning,” Howell said during a Wednesday open house at the gym. “We conceived this facility in 2009, and the project has been largely completed in phases over the past two years.”

Howell said the addition – which also includes several offices, a computer lab, a “multi-purpose” room, an industrial-strength laundry room, and two shower stalls – is even “more special” because department members aided in designing and finishing it.

“It’s got their handprint on it,” he said. “I want to thank them for supporting and being involved in the entire process. Some helped by painting or placing equipment and others helped with other touches, like installing electrical plate covers and such.

“This wouldn’t have happened without the support of the city and our employees in helping to get it all put together. The public has always been supportive of us, too, and I hope the citizens know we appreciate them as well. Everything we do is aimed at better serving the public,” he said.

The gym provides firefighters an opportunity for workouts whether they’re on- or off-duty. Space is limited, however, and only about 10 persons can utilize the gym at a given time.

The facility contains assorted weight stations, a stationary bicycle device, several treadmills and other bodybuilding equipment.

“You can work on cardio-vascular improvement and exercise your entire body,” Howell said. “Several of the weight stations have extra features. It’s a complete gym.”

Howell is equally proud of the laundry, offices and computer lab.

“The washer and dryer are top-of-the-line,” he said. “The washer has to be stout enough to take out the soot and other grime from fires, because if that’s not removed, it can lead to health problems. And your have to have a powerful dryer to take care of some of our heavier uniforms and materials.

“Our computer lab isn’t at the point I want it to be yet, but we’re getting there. We have to be able to keep up with computer and Web advances because more and more information resources we might need are becoming available by computer. And our offices allow us to have some personnel manning the building every day,” Howell said.

Howell sounded like a new father wanting to show off his baby when he said he’s “happy” to let the public “see what we’ve got here.”

The facility can be toured between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with appointments available by calling 870-730-2048.

“We’re making strides,” he said. “A lot of cities don’t have what we have with our training facilities and technology. We always want to get better, and eventually we want our training program to be self-sufficient so we don’t have to send our personnel to the state fire academy in Camden.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it. I like where we are and I like where we’re going with this.”