The roots of the Arkansas Fire Training Academy and formal firefighter training in Arkansas have a nearly sixty-year history. The fire training was conducted through the Arkansas Fire College in the early forties. With no home base, the instructors, Whit Murphy, Sr., Elmo Anderson, Ralph Scantlin, and Gene Hendricks, traveled around the State to train the firefighters. The Arkansas Fire Training Academy was formally established in 1967 as a Southwest Technical Institute training division, later known as Southern Arkansas University Tech or SAU Tech. The offices and training site was on SAU Tech's campus in the Highland Industrial Park, the former Shumaker US Naval Ammunition Depot site. The administrative offices for the Arkansas Fire Training Academy were located in the former fire station for the US Naval base. The location served as the Arkansas Fire Training Academy administrative offices, primary classrooms, and central training location. The fire station renovation was not included in the contract and was done by maintenance employees of the school. Three new fire trucks and much training equipment were acquired for use by the Academy. R. White Murphy, Sr. was designated as the chief instructor, and an office was set up in the administration building for the Fire Training Academy.
Phase I construction of the off-campus training site began on land donated by J. W. Weiner of Shreveport, Louisiana, to build a training ground for “firemen.” A bill was introduced in the 1973 General Assembly to appropriate $250,000 for the construction of the training ground. This appropriation was a good start in building one of the best fire training grounds in the Southwest. During the 1975 meeting of the General Assembly, Governor David Pryor recommended that an additional $844,000 be given to the Fire Training Academy for Phase II construction.
During the spring of 1976, efforts were made to secure the National Fire Training Academy in the area. Governor David Pryor and Director Charles O. Ross appeared before the site selection committee in Washington, D. C. The Academy was finally located near the Nation’s Capital in Maryland.
The Academy training ground was completed and dedicated in 1977 as the “R. Whit Murphy Fire Training Ground. In June 2004, the administrative offices for the Arkansas Fire Training Academy were moved out to the main site located within the Highland Park area. After damage by a tornado in 2009, the site was rebuilt to include a fire station and state-of-the-art classroom facilities.
Today the Arkansas Fire Training Academy is a turn-key experience for students – truly one of its kind in the country. Staff provides relevant and current curriculum and hands-on training to emergency and community responders, industrial staff, Department of Defense personnel, and other public and private organizations either on-site at the beautiful campus or remotely. Students on campus are provided meals and lodging.