TOWANDA - The Bradford County commissioners this week took another step toward making the county's planned $2 million training center for first responders a reality.

The commissioners selected RATTEW Associates Inc., which has an office in Athens, to do the engineering work for the first phase of the construction of the center.

RATTEW, which will be paid $36,600, was selected from a field of 19 companies that submitted bids for the work, county officials said.

Bradford County Public Safety Director Robert Barnes said he was "very satisfied" with the selection of RATTEW, which is headquartered in Lancaster, Pa.

The center will be used for the training of firefighters, ambulance workers, and police officers from throughout the county,

Barnes and Bradford County Chief Clerk Michelle Shedden narrowed the 19 applicants down to five finalists, who were interviewed by county officials.

A "spectacular" group of companies bid for the work, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith said.

Any one of the five finalists could do the job, Barnes said.

The county is planning to construct the training center in phases, which will make the project more affordable, McLinko said.

One of the tasks of the engineering firm will be to help the county determine which parts of the training center should be constructed in the different phases, he said.

RATTEW will also need to figure out if the center can fit on land that the county owns in West Burlington Township, The commissioners would prefer to use the West Burlington property, because the county would not have to buy land for the center.

RATTEW will also need to come up with a better cost estimate for the project and determine which proposed components of the center will be affordable to build, county officials have said.

The commissioners say they hope that first responders from other counties will also use the training center and that local industries, including the gas industry, will make use of the center for their training.

RATTEW "put together a really good, solid team" to work on the design of the center, Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko said. "They (RATTEW) understand the Marcellus Shale really well and they understand the first-responder part really well," McLinko said.

Among the facilities the training center needs to have are classroom space, a shooting range, a smokehouse, a site for vehicle extraction training and hazardous materials training, and facilities for training to rescue individuals from confined spaces, Barnes has said.

In addition, the training center needs to have training facilities for gas-related emergencies, such as a simulated well pad and pipeline, he said.

As a requirement for submitting a bid, the companies had to have experience working either working on the design of a training center for first responders or an emergency operations center, Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller said. The county wants to move its Emergency Management Agency to the center.

The commissioners are planning to construct the training center using revenue from the Act 13 impact fee on gas drilling.

The commissioners say the training center is needed in Bradford County because of the long distances that local first responders currently must travel to get their training.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.