A Training Center in the Making

Spring Firefighters take an oath to save lives and property. Training is how they keep that oath. Strengthening skills and gaining new ones prepares your Spring firefighters for your worst day.

Creating a fire training center here in Spring has been a major goal for a long time. From an initial effort in the 1990s to the purchase of properties on Kreinhop and James C. Leo to the excitement of finding the future home of the W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Fire Training Center on Lexington Road, our goal of total community safety is always front and center.

Instead of additional time and expense to train elsewhere, Spring Firefighters will have advanced training facilities right here.

Pictured above: aerial view of training center construction in April 2024. Photo courtesy of SpawGlass.

Construction is underway to meet the goal of training our team here. From the ground up, the W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Fire Training Center is designed to hone the best firefighters and improve department processes because our commitment begins long before a fire. It begins with you.

And now the rest of the story on The W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Fire Training Center…

Honoring Our Past Building Our Future

When W.W. “Cotton” Weaver started volunteering in 1953, he fought fires in the clothes he had on – “no helmet, no gloves, no nothing.”

Spring Fire’s first training sessions involved a few volunteers in a parking lot practicing unloading and loading hose and pumping water from a homemade fire truck. Weaver, the only surviving 1953 Spring volunteer, says a crowbar was the department’s only rescue tool.

Pictured above: Chief Weaver at a fire on the North Freeway in April 1974

Spring’s first volunteer firefighters protected about 700 families spread out over 150 square miles of Harris and Montgomery counties. The department was funded with donations and auctioning off cattle.

Pictured: Paul Vern with donated grand champion steer.

The gear situation didn’t improve much in the department’s first quarter century. When former Spring Fire Chief Alan Lankford joined the department in the late 1970s, Spring Firefighters had some “hand me downs from other large departments” such as 3/4 rubber boots and fiberglass helmets. Airpacks were a rarity and Chief Lankford added “if you wanted gloves, you bought them yourself.”

Pictured above from left to right: Spring Volunteer Fire Chief W.W. “Cotton” Weaver, F.A. Arp, Stanley Norris Lemm, Jim Kelley, David Schneider and Frankie Gonzalez in 1977.

“Since the 1970s, our community has experienced a huge population boom. Subdivisions began being built and are still being built today,” said Irene Mack, a volunteer who served as an officer of both the Spring Volunteer Fire Association (SVFA) and Harris County Emergency Services District No. 7 (HCESD7).

By the 1990s fire protection needs were changing as Spring evolved from a rural area to a suburban one

Pictured above: Spring Firefighters participating in a vehicle extrication class.

“We started seriously talking about the need for training and dedicated training space back in the 1990s,” Mack remembered.

“At that point we talked about doing a north Harris County regional training area,” added former Chief Lankford. “We wanted it to be on Spring Towne Drive near where the old Dr. Pepper plant was.”

Great visions without funding can only go so far when budgets barely cover fire trucks, gear, equipment and stations. When HCESD7 was formed in 1997, things began to change. Spring hired career firefighters to staff stations Mondays-Fridays on their days off from their full-time firefighting jobs.

Pictured above: Spring Volunteer Firefighters battling a 1992 house fire in Dove Meadows.

The next decade even saw more changes as ExxonMobil began planning a huge campus in Spring.

In 2013 Spring Fire’s first eight full-time firefighters began serving our community and HCESD7 commissioners purchased three acres of land on Kreinhop Road behind Spring Fire Station 75 to train firefighters and potentially build a fire truck maintenance shop.

Spring Fire Captain Shannon Stryk stepped up to help identify architects who specialize in first response training centers. One was Abercrombie Design + Planning out of Fort Worth. “Most of my work comes through word of mouth through other agencies and firefighters,” said Tommy Abercrombie. “It was a great network that put us together.”

Pictured above: Spring Firefighters demonstrating how to safely put out a fire.

“Abercrombie designs some of the best, most realistic training facilities anywhere in the world,” said former HCESD7 Board President Bob Schmanski who says it was obvious within a short time that the Kreinhop property wasn’t going to be large enough, “while its good hands-on training, it’s not representative of what we truly have in our fire district.”

However, the Kreinhop property didn’t sit unused.

Captain Stryk says Spring Firefighters practiced rescuing people from old school buses on the property and hosted trench rescue classes on the property for several years.

As more firefighters were hired and new stations constructed, the HCESD7 Board purchased 15 acres of land at James C. Leo and Cypresswood.

“We knew our long-term plan was to put a fire station over there,” said former HCESD7 Board President Bob Schmanski. “Our broker came to us with an opportunity to buy that entire piece of property so we can get rid of the property behind Station 75 and have a bigger training field.”

While reviewing what could be built on 15 acres instead of three, two important questions changed everything: ‘Why are we doing what we are doing and what do we need long-term?’

This epiphany shifted the thought process to the perspective of a business providing emergency response, risk management and community risk reduction services.

“We all want the best trained people to take care of our citizens,” concluded Schmanski. “We owe it to our taxpayers to do that and we’ve got the ability to do that.”

Pictured above: 2018 Spring Fire cadet training.

Schmanski says the approach shifted on its axis from “what if we spend a bunch of money training people and they leave to what if we don’t spend money on them and they stay.”

He praised the commissioners as thoughtful professionals with unique talents and backgrounds: “You’ve got Melanie Gander who works with one of the world’s foremost medical facilities. Todd Anderson who does loss control. We took a business approach to our firefighters. We’re going to provide the best training, the best facilities, and we’re going to hold them accountable.”

Spring Fire Chief Scott Seifert says the entire department was reviewed and another key question was asked “since we need a bigger logistics building too, is 15 acres enough?”

Seifert saw 15 acres as only enough for the training props. Abercrombie agreed. Both the Kreinhop and James C. Leo properties “were going to be limiting” to the big picture when the department wanted logistics, maintenance and training together.

“We can’t be thinking today only about today. What we are doing is building to last fifty years or more.” – Spring Fire Chief Scott Seifert

At this point, the son of a fire department founder and former chief Arthur Bayer enters the picture with nearly 52 acres to sell at Lexington and Louetta in the heart of Spring Fire’s territory.

Abercrombie was in Spring consulting with the department when Chief Joel Crenshaw showed him the Bayer property. When touring it for the first time, he saw the “ideal spot for a campus, an iconic facility that the community can be proud of and a great investment to take care of the people who are making things happen.”

“So many times a client is given the worst piece of property the community can find,” Abercrombie said. “This is a rare experience for us where we are not trying to compensate for a poor piece of property.”

At a special board meeting in March 2018, the HCESD7 board approved the purchase and accepted a letter of intent to sell the Kreinhop property. The next month the board accepted a sale contract for 10 of the 15 acres at James C. Leo, keeping five acres for a future fire station and joint detention pond.

Before selling his family’s land, Don Bayer had one important ask. He wanted the training center dedicated to Cotton Weaver. “I’ve known Cotton all my life. He deserves this,” Bayer also noted there is “already a ballpark named after dad on Hardy.” Bayer has ‘no doubt’ his father would be happy with how everything is turning out.

That was a stipulation the department and board were happy to comply with.

The sale closed on July 2, 2018. A public ceremony was held at Spring Fire Station 71 to announce the W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Fire Training Center and Maintenance Facility. “It’s an honor,” said Weaver who excitedly follows the entire process.

Pictured above: Former HCESD7 Board President Bob Schmanski speaking at the announcement of the W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Training Center in the bay of Spring Fire Station 71 on July 2, 2018.

Later that year Spring Fire’s new Station 75 opened and by summer 2019 all nine Spring Fire stations were staffed 24/7/365. However, meeting the staffing goal meant vehicle and facility maintenance shops, then housed in fire stations, would need dedicated space, as logistics was already outgrowing theirs in Station 71.

With more career firefighters and new stations, the command staff and board shifted to the specifics of what needed to be accomplished on the training center campus. It became clear logistics, training, vehicle and facility maintenance all needed to be on the same property.

“If we are going to have a logistics building and training props, we are going to need a training building which then turned into the education building,” said Spring Fire Chief Scott Seifert.

“We started with a brand-new sheet of paper, and we said ‘ok, who’s got state-of-the-art learning facilities,’ which is how the education building came in,” added Schmanski who says they looked at Microsoft and Hillcorp.

Abercrombie Planning + Design presented inspirations such as photos of a building in the Netherlands and the command staff toured buildings at Texas A&M University and local corporations looking at design features such as convertible walls.

Abercrombie and his team asked themselves what they could do to dramatically improve the way Spring Fire delivers services – “not just status quo, not what everyone else does – what they could do that can really have a significant impact.”

Pictured above: Chief Weaver with the sign announcing the future home of the W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Training Center.

The design phase was a long, thoughtful process carried out over multiple years during a global pandemic. Seifert says the process “metamorphosed” as they brainstormed how to have the right buildings for every purpose with 100% flexibility.

Construction costs skyrocketed during the global pandemic, forcing some creative changes. The board had many discussions on supply chains, hard to get materials like steel and rising construction costs.

SpawGlass construction was hired as the Construction Manager at Risk. Detailed construction cost proposals were analyzed, cost volatility issues discussed, and actions taken.

The commissioners embraced Abercrombie’s conservative proposal to build in phases, starting with infrastructure, a logistics and maintenance building and two specialized burn buildings.

Pictured above: Chief Weaver center in blue uniform shirt flanked by Fire Chief Scott Seifert on the left and HCESD7 Board President Melanie Gander on his right in a red shirt). turning the dirt on July 7, 2023.

The monument signage for the entrance was installed in December 2023 as land clearing began for the infrastructure. Drainage measures required by Harris County Flood Control District were under construction at the corner of Lexington and Louetta at the beginning of 2024.

While there is nothing about a logistics building that is “really sexy like putting a house fire out or running into a burning building,” Abercrombie says, “it is such a critical aspect of keeping the department ready to respond.”

What makes this building unique is its drive-through design. Firefighters can drive fire and rescue trucks in one door and out the other side. While in the building, the trucks can receive necessary maintenance and supplies.

Pictured above: Artist rendering of structures for the training center campus.

In February 2024, Chief Seifert, along with architects and construction supervisors, held a town hall meeting for neighboring businesses and residents to answer questions. One question was about trees and Seifert was clear while he wanted to save as many trees as possible, more trees will be planted when construction is complete.

Today, Spring Firefighters serve 176,000 people over 62-square miles of Harris County in all forms of All-Hazard response, including emergency medical calls, fires and rescues. The number of different responses the department makes every year requires a lot of specialized training.

Since this center is about what Spring Firefighters need to do their jobs and improve their skills, many discussions were held with firefighters, the training and logistics divisions, emergency vehicle technicians, facilities and command.

“What we are building is reflective of their challenges and what they’d like to get better at. Everybody’s going to be able to put their finger on something they contributed to it.” – Tommy Abercrombie, Abercrombie Planning + Design

After years of planning, surveying, environment studies, permitting, purchasing rights of way and an additional 11 acres adjacent to the training center for future needs, a groundbreaking was held on July 7, 2023. Signage was bid, designed and erected before the end of 2023.

Pictured left to right: Chief Weaver, Deputy Chief Jerod Davenport, Assistant Chief Robert Logan and Deputy Chief Landon Churchill.

Now that dirt is turning, everyone is excited to see the plan coming together. “It’s got a really positive future,” said Abercrombie. So many things are going to be easier and more efficient to accomplish as Spring Fire grows along with the community.

“Absolutely, it’s unique. It’s different than anybody in the area has got,” concluded Schmanski. “The goal is when our firefighters are trained and they roll into 95% of the emergencies in our fire district, no matter what it is, it is not going to be a surprise. We’ve trained on this. They are ready to go.”

“Most people go to bed at night thinking ‘I’m taken care of,’” added Schmanski. Spring Fire efforts are aimed at securing that level of personal safety.

Keeping fire trucks in top condition and supplied with everything a crew might need and training those crews to the highest level are major lifts for any fire department. Abercrombie says this training center will be a one-stop shop because “the Spring Fire Department prioritized their most basic day-to-day needs.” His unique design is based on a simple question, “How do we make this efficient for the operation?”

Pictured above: a computer rendering of the future logistics building.

Today Spring Fire Crews can spend an entire day just to perform a few evolutions of live fire training at Harris County’s fire training field. Instead of added wear and tear on vehicles, travel time, and fuel, Spring Fire crews will only need to travel to the very center of the district when the training center opens. As a bonus time saver, the training division will handle the set-up and breakdown of the training scenarios, saving valuable crew time. If that is not efficient enough, their fire trucks can receive maintenance and supplies while they train. Should there be a major incident crews could respond from the training center.

By starting construction with the logistics building and burn buildings, Abercrombie says this project is “really unique” and the department’s thoughtful prioritization “says something about Spring’s leadership, board, and elevates morale. Unlike a lot of places where you are pulled a hundred different ways, everyone is fighting over a small piece of the pie, this district is focused on one thing and that’s community protection.”

Pictured above: aerial view of training center construction in April 2024. Photo courtesy of SpawGlass.

“Upon completion, the W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Fire Training Center will represent the Spring Fire Department’s commitment of courageous service to the Spring Community,” added longtime HCESD7 Board Member and current Vice President Gayle Fuller. Chief Seifert echoed that, “this complex will be a source of pride for our firefighters and our community.”

Bayer agrees and says “it’s gonna be great!” Even though Arthur Bayer did not believe in selling land, his son thinks for “something like this he might’ve considered it.”

The W.W. “Cotton” Weaver Fire Training Center represents the dearly held heart’s dream of the Bravest of the Brave, the generations of firefighters who have put their lives on the line. – longtime Harris County ESD No. 7 Commissioner Gayle Fuller

Pictured above: Chief Weaver in August 2004.

Weaver is “proud of this department” and that the fire training center will bear his name. When Spring Firefighters begin training there, he is confident those who came before them will “spiritually be there.”