FAIRFIELD — For Lisa Thomas, the official opening of the Captain Joseph S. Elias Training Center, a regional fire school, was more than just professional, it was personal.

In her remarks, Thomas, the project manager for Consigli Construction, noted three times that firefighters came to the rescue of someone in her family — her grandparents from a burning building, her young son, and herself, when she was in a car accident.

“People like you come into our lives at some time when we are in harm’s way,” Thomas said.

The regional center, built with $11.8 million in state funds in about 18 months, was a focused goal of retired Asst. Chief Chris Tracy, and a classroom inside the building on Richard White Way is named in his honor.

“Asst. Chief Chris Tracy did yeoman’s work,” Chief Denis McCarthy said. “He spent a lot of time in Hartford, begging, pleading and cajoling the process along. We owe Chief Tracy a debt of gratitude for his contributions to this school.”

Asst. Chief Scott Bisson, who will serve as the facility’s director, recalled an incident at a large fire when he was a young firefighter in Shelton, at a time in his career when he didn’t quite realize how important training was to the job.

They were inside this burning building, “looking at the most fire I’ve ever seen,” when their chief pulled them back. Right after he did, Bisson said, “the entire building collapsed right next to us. At that point, I knew what needed to be done for training.”

The new training facility, Bisson said, was a 20-year dream of Elias’ that is finally coming to fruition. Elias was a former Fairfield firefighter who was instrumental in Fairfield’s training program.

The nearly 15,000 square foot building includes an apparatus bay and a new burn building. There is one large classroom, along with two smaller classrooms, an all purpose room, and administrative office. The regional center serves 24 departments in Fairfield and New Haven counties. Firefighters can train on a variety of simulators, including flash over, confined space rescue and trench rescue.

The Fairfield Regional Fire School includes the following cities and towns: Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport, Wilton, Easton, Trumbull, Bridgeport, Stratford and Fairfield.

greilly@ctpost.com; @GreillyPost