SANTA ROSA BEACH — After roughly a decade of work, the South Walton Fire District Training Tower is operational.

Dozens gathered under the shadow of the four-story facility Monday to welcome in a project Chief Ryan Crawford said was "incredibly exciting."

"From a proficiency standpoint it's going to allow our men and women to train in the environment that they don't always have the opportunity to train in," Crawford said. "We've incorporated all different types of versatility into this building so it doesn't become stale."

The training facility boasts features such as interior and exterior stairwells, a fire place and chimney to funnel smoke into each level and an area for firefighters to practice repelling.

According to Assistant Chief and project manager Marc Anderson, the addition cost around $975,000 and will be a resource firefighters use everyday. 

Anderson added SWFD officials toured training facilities across the state to "see what they did, what they didn't do, what they wished they would have done and what they regretted."

He was confident the tower would provide SWFD the resources needed to maximize its rescue efforts.

"We spent a lot of time making sure it was exactly what we needed ... (and made) sure it's going to be here for many, many firefighters past me and really train our future firefighters," Anderson said.

During the ceremony, Crawford announced that the training tower would be dedicated to former chief Richard Talbert, who led the department for more than a decade.

Talbert, who was surprised by the news, said the announcement "touched his heart."

"This is a an accumulation of a lot of work and dreams," Talbert said. "The men and women here and our leadership team, we sat 10 years ago and ... we'd stand out here just on a dirt pile just looking at it, envisioning, thinking about what it was we were trying to accomplish long-term, and I'm just so glad to see it come to fruition."