New Democrat MPP worried closing fire college will affect fire training

·3 min read

Closing the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst and replacing it with 20 regional training centres will have negative consequences for fire departments and municipalities, the MPP for Temiskaming-Cochrane says.

John Vanthof says forcing firefighters, especially those who live in rural communities, to learn online “will be one more barrier for them” because they're going to run into sporadic internet service.

“So it becomes one more barrier for them to keep up their training,” said Vanthof.

“And at its worst it could turn people away from becoming or remaining a firefighter.”

Vanthof says he knows many volunteer firefighters in his rural riding who love what they do and give up “their time to save lives."

Vanthof has a question for the Doug Ford government as rural firefighters continue their training online with unreliable internet.

“The government is making it more difficult to learn and is that the way we want to work with people who run into danger while the rest of us are running away?” asked Vanthof.

Vanthof says by closing the fire college, the province is downloading training costs onto individual municipalities.

It now costs municipalities $65 to send a firefighter to college in Gravenhurst.

That $65 covers accommodations, meals and the cost of the course.

With the college set to close at the end of this month to be replaced by 20 regional training centres, the courses at the centres will cost hundreds of dollars each plus the municipalities have to put up their firefighters and hotels and pay for their restaurant meals.

Vanthof says this is a big concern.

“Right now the fire college provides world-class training at a very reasonable cost,” Vanthof said.

“But now the government says we're going to regional training centres, and although those centres could also provide good training, they're not going to provide the training at the cost the college can. My riding has all kinds of small fire departments in small municipalities who quite frankly don't have money to throw around.”

Vanthof says he's not qualified to comment on how the training at the regional centres would compare to the training at the college.

“But if they're done correctly and enough effort is put in, they should have something that's equivalent to the college,” he said.

However, Vanthof pointed out a shortcoming of the regional training centres that a training officer who trains firefighters in Almaguin Highlands also identified.

The issue is firefighters carrying out practical work on live burns.

At the college, firefighters can work at one of two live burn facilities.

Under the regional training centre model, two units will move around the 20 training facilities.

Vanthof says having two burn units spread across 20 training facilities is another barrier to training because not all firefighters will have immediate access to the burn facilities.

“If the 20 centres can't provide enough burn units, then having 20 facilities doesn't make any more sense than having the college,” he said.

Vanthof says as it stands now the new model creates more problems and adds “whenever you put up more barriers, you either get less training or fewer firefighters.”

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.

Mackenzie Casalino, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget