County could install $200,000 fire and rescue training tower at Camp SLO

The county could spend close to $200,000 for a “relocatable rescue training tower” if the Board of Supervisors approves it Tuesday.

The fire and rescue training tool would be used by firefighters from several departments in the region. It would be installed on the drill grounds at Camp San Luis Obispo.

The tower would create “a significant improvement of hands-on emergency response training in the county,” according to a staff report to the board from Rob Lewin and Bill Winter of County Fire.

The $191,141 comes from a Homeland Security grant at a time when those grants have come under fire nationally for being, in many cases, pork-barrel spending.

Critics have again charged that money intended to fight terrorism has been used instead to fund routine police and fire department activities around the country.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released a report last week that examined Homeland Security expenditures in 10 states and found expenses he considered legal but inappropriate — for example, a Bearcat armored vehicle for the small town of Keene, N.H.

Coburn’s report did not look at the Central Coast, and nobody has suggested that a rescue training tower is not properly classified as a terrorism fighting tool.

San Luis Obispo County — home to one of California’s two nuclear power plants — has applied for and received millions of dollars from Homeland Security in the decade since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ron Alsop, director of the county Office of Emergency Services, has said the dozens of items purchased over the years “clearly provide for the increased safety of our citizens” throughout the region.

They are “directly related to public safety and emergency management, both for day-to-day and in the event of a homeland security event,” he wrote.

Applications for the grants must meet state and federal guidelines, he added.

Among the local uses for Homeland Security dollars: a reverse 911 system, a regional hazardous materials response vehicle, a bomb task force “total containment vessel/trailer that can safely transport explosive devices,” and many other projects “that are not only certainly not boondoggle purchases but that directly and absolutely tie in to protecting the public health and safety,” Alsop wrote.

Alsop said the money has been used for maps and plans instrumental in fighting the Calf Fire east of Santa Margarita this July and for preparing tsunami warnings after the major earthquake in Japan in March 2011.

The Board of Supervisors meeting begins 9 a.m. at the County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St.