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Red Watch were the first crew to respond to an incident from the new Horsham Fire Station (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published: 1st August 2023

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (WSFRS) has opened its new training centre and fire station in Horsham. 

The site, commissioned by West Sussex County Council, has dual purposes. As well as being the new home of Horsham Fire Station, which had been based at Hurst Road since 1968, the facility will serve as a modern, innovative training centre for WSFRS. The building has been named Platinum House, in tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II, and is located on MacFarlane Way, in honour of John MacFarlane, a former Horsham firefighter who died from lung disease shortly after his retirement. 

Horsham’s firefighters moved into the facility on the morning of Monday 10 July. At about 10am, Red Watch responded to the first incident from the station, a hedgerow fire in Strood Lane, Warnham. The new location provides crews with immediate access on to the A264. Two buttons inside the station allow the firefighters to stop the traffic on the slip road – avoiding delays as they head in a southbound direction – or on the entrance to the Highwood development – which is used when they head northbound.  

Within the part of the facility used by the fire station, there are two general purpose appliances (fire engines), each accommodating a crew of six. They are kitted with water pumps and hoses, cutting equipment for road accidents and 13.5 metre ladders with extensions. One appliance also benefits from a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS), which deploys foam to fight specific fires. It has proved efficient when tackling thatched roof fires and can also provides protection to adjacent properties. A third appliance has an aerial ladder platform which can extend to 32 metres. This is used to tackle fires on rooftops, commercial units or high-rise buildings. The station also has a light 4x4 pump, to help gain access to fires in rural areas with tough terrain. 

Jim Mackay, Group Manager at WSFRS, said: ‘In addition to the station appliances, there are three more dedicated to training. If there is a major incident that requires additional support, they can however be manned by retained crews. Each one represents a significant investment. A general-purpose appliance costs in excess of £300,000 and some of the specially-adapted vehicles can be double that. So, we ensure we utilise them to their full potential. For six years, they serve as a front-line appliance, before becoming a second-line appliance for another six and finally six as a reserve/training appliance.’ 


 The state-of-the-art training centre will be used by firefighters from across West Sussex and beyond. New facilities include a live fire training building, a breathing apparatus facility, and a training tower. There are also air-conditioned, multi-functional rooms for theoretical components or class-based courses, such as first aid training, with 12 ensuite rooms that can be used by instructors, as well as those attending training courses (the intensive firefighters’ course runs for 13 weeks!) 

Most of the facilities were offered at the old Hurst Road training centre. However, new technology has now been adopted to test firefighters in more than 50 different scenarios. Also, challenges faced in emergency situations have led to WSFRS introducing new elements to its training programme. For example, a trench has been created to simulate the scenario of extracting occupants from a vehicle stuck in a bank or ditch. Similarly, a dummy horse equips firefighters with the skills needed to rescue horses, cows and other large animals, while a chimney has been built it into the structure of the training tower to mimic fires at older properties. 

Jim Mackay said: ‘With this new facility, we are able to cover the full spectrum of scenarios. Rather than throwing recruits straight in at the deep end and sending them into a training tower full of smoke, we can begin with the basics and gradually introduce more challenging elements. First, recruits can get used to wearing breathing apparatus. The next step is for them to learn how to navigate and use equipment in darkness, which is something they will face in a real-life scenario. Then, we introduce cold smoke into the training, to get them used to moving through a building with poor visibility and low oxygen. At various levels, we add hose reels, radios and thermal imaging cameras too, before adding the heat of a fire to recreate all that they could possibly be confronted with in an emergency.’

The live fire training building (which has the brown, triangular patterned panels on the side) can be used to simulate about 50 different scenarios, all run from a control room. These can include finding occupants in precarious positions, with different rooms on multiple levels locked to test navigational skills. Hose reels fitted inside the facility are the same as those on the fire engines, so using the equipment in the dark and gauge water pressures becomes second nature to the firefighters.

Dummies are used to simulate casualties, both humans and pets (appliances carry breathing apparatus for a wide range of animals, with some small enough for a hamster). A dummy of a dog in the training facility has been named Menace, a nod to the former beloved pet of Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, Chief Fire Officer at WSFRS. Sabrina said: ‘Menace saved my life at a time when I was homeless, and now the training staff have named the dummy dog after him. By being part of the training, he will help to save other dogs’ lives, in the same way Menace once saved me.’ 


Much consideration has been given to the wellbeing of staff on site. The University of Central Lancashire conducted a study, commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union, and found that firefighters face an increased risk of catching cancer. The results of the study influenced the design of the facility, with greater care now taken to contain contaminants. 

There are modern procedures for cleaning uniforms and breathing equipment, with clearly defined ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ zones. In days gone, it was common practice for firefighters to climb back into a fire engine in uniform after tackling a blaze, but now they are removed to restrict the spread of potentially harmful contaminants. Bespoke washing machines at the station can accommodate half a dozen sets of breathing apparatus, while dirty uniforms are kept away from clean zones until they has been properly laundered. 

Sabrina said: ‘This is a blueprint for all stations, not only in terms of the welfare of our staff, but also the work we’ve done around contaminants. The chemicals produced during a fire are harmful, so we’ve done everything possible to reduce the firefighters’ exposure to them. They have committed to a public service, and we need to commit to them too, to keep them safe. It was also important for us to promote wellbeing and create a dignified, inclusive environment. We have provided prayer space and quiet places for reflection. We deal with difficult incidents and – having been there myself – I know that sometimes you need somewhere to process what you have seen and been through.’ 

‘We also have space for nursing mothers now. Having been through pregnancy as an operational firefighter, I can say that it has not always been at the forefront of minds. But it has been considered here. The fire service is changing and although it remains a male-dominated environment, we are welcoming more women. In reality, it is very easy for unisex areas to become more like a guy’s locker room, without anyone doing anything wrong or meaning it to happen. So, we have created a more cohesive environment to promote a positive culture for all.’


The project has been a collaboration between WSFRS and West Sussex County Council, and cost in excess of £21million. The work was carried out by Wilmott Dixon, who completed the project on time, despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic. 

Paul Marshall, Leader of WSCC, said: ’It is a sizable budget, especially when you consider the budgetary restraints that local authorities are facing in the current climate. When we embarked on this project, we hoped to collaborate with Sussex Police, which might have absorbed some of the costs, but they were not in a position to do it. Fortunately, we approved the budget prior to the pandemic. Construction and material costs have risen sharply since then, but we were able to secure costs at an early stage, saving us a lot of money. Wilmott Dixon have been great, not only in delivering a modern facility that will keep our firefighters both safe and prepared for decades, but also in their consideration of the facility’s neighbours and in realising our commitments to sustainability.’ 

Sustainability has been key to the design and is most visibly (or not!) demonstrated by the lack of smoke emitted. An innovative venting system extracts the smoke deployed during training exercises and burns it at a high temperature, to ensure it doesn’t rise into the atmosphere. Sabrina said: ‘Naturally, when you burn wood for live fire training, you produce a huge amount of carbon dioxide. However, at this facility, the smoke is converted into clean emissions, which is not only good for our neighbours, but the environment too. We’ve also installed solar panels and electric vehicle charging points, and used air source heat pumps to reduce our carbon footprint. It really is state-of-the-art in every sense.’

Further information:

For fire safety information, recruitment opportunities and news visit: www.westsussex.gov.uk/fire-emergencies-and-crime/west-sussex-fire-and-rescue-service/


Words: Ben Morris 

Photos: Alan Wright