With the strong possibility the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst will close at the end of the month, five fire stations in Almaguin that share training are working to ensure part of their practical training is not interrupted.
The Minister of the Solicitor General announced the closure of the decades old school in mid January and plans to replace it with 20 regional training centres.
The replacement includes having two burn unit facilities travel to the various training centres regularly so firefighters at the facilities can put what they've learned to the test.
But Gary Courtice, the Regional Chief Fire Training Officer, who trains the Almaguin firefighters in Magnetawan, McMurrich-Monteith, Kearney, Perry and Burk's Falls, says some firefighters may have to wait years before tackling a burn unit at one of the training centres.
As Courtice understands how the burn units will work, a municipality could ask for one of the units, but since the regional training centres get priority “the municipality would go on a waiting list” before getting a unit.
“So the regional training facilities get them first, and the municipality next,” Courtice said.
“But if the units are fully booked at the training centres, a municipality would be on a long waiting list and when you look at the number of municipalities there are in Ontario, it could be years before they get it.”
Courtice adds it doesn't get much better when sending firefighters to the training centres and hope they get to work on a burn unit.
He says since the units travel from centre to centre, the hope for firefighters is they have to coincide their visit to a regional centre when one of the two units is there.
Courtice doesn't believe those are good odds, and here again the wait could be a long one for the firefighter to work on a burn unit.
However, Courtice says the personnel he trains at the five fire stations are hoping to avoid this scenario.
Courtice says the five fire chiefs are looking at using marine cargo containers, also known as sea cans or C-Cans, as a training tool.
“They're looking at three sea containers,” Courtice said.
“Two would be 40 feet long and the other is 20 feet long. The smaller container would straddle the top of the other containers to create a second floor in order to simulate a two-storey building.”
Courtice says the interior of the containers would have movable walls in order to change the look of the inside of the “home” and create a kitchen in one area or bedroom or other rooms in other sections.
“So if we can change the rooms around, the firefighters aren't always going inside and turning left or turning right,” Courtice said.
“So today you have a left-hand wall and tomorrow you'd slide the movable wall over and have a right-hand wall.
“You can't replicate every scenario of a real structure but at least you have the opportunity to change things and it allows us to stay sharp on our fire protection techniques.”
Courtice says the combined unit will be characterized as a smoke unit and not an actual burn unit “for environmental reasons and it would create unwanted danger for the people inside."
For those reasons the unit won't contain things like chairs, couches are other flammable materials so in that sense the fire is not realistic.
But it will be a smoky environment firefighters take on thanks to straw in a 45-gallon drum doused with water and then set on fire.
Setting the “fire” this way keeps the interior temperature at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Courtice says in this way the firefighters remain safe by keeping the heat down as opposed to a real fire environment, plus the firefighters have to cope with the smoke, meaning it's hard for them to see as would be the case in a real blaze.
“The personnel would fight it like they would any structure,” Courtice says.
“That means they go in with hand tools, breathing apparatus and whatever else they would use when taking on a fire.”
Currently the fire chiefs are getting quotes for the C-Cans and they're coming in around the $60,000 to $70,000 range.
Courtice says to date the fire chiefs are getting great support from their respective municipal councils to acquire the smoke unit.
Courtice says at $70,000, the smoke unit, which may be housed in Perry Township, will pay for itself in a short time frame.
“It's going to be a permanent unit and we'll be able to use it in lieu of going to one of the regional training centres,” Courtice said.
“So you can imagine how quickly it's going to pay for itself instead of sending people to the regional training facility.”
Courtice says a major draw of having your own smoke unit is the various fire departments don't have to send their personnel and equipment very far and it's also easier to schedule training sessions on the units because the firefighters aren't competing with anyone else for the C-Can.
“It's very appealing and we can do our training right in our own backyard,” he said.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget