Story and photos by STACY MARTIN
Collaboration efforts and commitment to public safety manifest enhanced training through the Walton Works Training Center of Excellence Public Safety Complex fire tower in DeFuniak Springs.
On April 29, Sheriff Mike Adkinson with the Walton County Sheriffs Office (WCSO) and Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) President Dr. Devin Stephenson held a joint ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of the official opening of the facility. Stephenson recognized several officials in attendance of the ceremony, including NWFSC Trustees Chair Laurie Kelley, Vice-Chair Shane Abbott, former Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham Fountain, Reynolds Henderson, Maj. General Don Litke (USAF-Retired), and Maj. General Thomas Wright (USAF-retired). Stephenson also welcomed Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) Mike Barker and Danny Glidewell, DeFuniak Springs Fire Chief Ross Sheffield, Brian Hughes, South Walton Fire District Operations Chief, Walton County Schools Superintendent Russell Hughes, and Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden.
Stephenson stated that he and Adksinson “have a shared vision to jointly create a preeminent training facility that will transform career opportunities available for the citizens of Walton County and the entire northwest Florida region.” Stephenson noted the Walton Works Center of Excellence was the first project to receive approval of the triumph Gulf Coast grant, with the college receiving 2.7 million dollars, and acknowledged the BCC’s commitment and contribution of 1.5 million in Restore Act dollars to the program center.
The training complex, a three-story fire-tower facility training center, is located at the Walton County Sheriff’s Office in DeFuniak Springs and will offer training for firefighter candidates in controlled environments replicating potential real-life conditions. The structure also incorporates a second-floor burn room and a driving pad. Sheriff Mike Adkinson donated a fire truck, ambulance, and 40 self-contained breathing apparatus air packs. The facility will be utilized jointly by NWFSC and the WCSO to expand public safety training opportunities in Walton County.
Stephenson said the “Public safety officers are going to be provided with the skills needed to earn a family-sustainable wage, and employers will look to grow and expand their businesses in a safer community. And the region will be provided the economic transformation that will continue to elevate Walton County as a great place to live, work, and play.”