Laurier Fire Department firefighters now have their own training facility right next to their fire department building.
“It's been my baby for some time,” said Laurier Fire Chief Tim Hollands on the drive to create a local training facility.
Hollands says the department started talking about having a training facility closer to home because it’s cheaper.
The decision to pursue its own facility was somewhat spurred by the closure of the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst last year.
Once the college closed, the hands-on training firefighters from across the province received switched to Regional Training Centres (RTC).
But Hollands told The Nugget sending his volunteer firefighters to train in other areas “was beyond my budget.”
When the fire college directly provided the training, the amount fire departments paid was heavily subsidized.
Before it closed, it cost municipalities $65 to send a firefighter to the fire college. That covered accommodations and meals on site plus the cost of the course.
But under the RTC concept where firefighters travel to other parts of the province, in addition to paying for the courses the municipality also has to cope with hotel expenses and restaurant costs, something that’s been a concern for municipal leaders in Almaguin because of limited budgets.
However, the Laurier Fire Department no longer has to worry about sending its firefighters to an RTC.
Enbridge Gas is well known for making annual donations to fire departments and last year the utility gave the local fire department $10,000.
“Under COVID I also got an extra $6,000 for my budget for training,” Hollands said.
“We put all the money together to acquire the training facility.”
The money helped to buy an auto extrication pad which is paved like a highway and includes things like a steel guard rail.
Hollands says when it’s time for a drill, the firefighters move a derelict car onto the mock highway and go through an extrication process.
Hollands adds the pad helps with other maneuvers.
For example, two cars can be put on the pad to form a T-bone collision and then the personnel would go through a rescue procedure.
There’s also room on the pad to create a mock tree or mock telephone pole collision and also mock hydro cables to simulate an electrical situation.
The $16,000 also helped to buy a C-can where live burns can be carried out and the firefighters work on procedures on how to attack a fire.
But Hollands points out his firefighters would only fight the fire from the exterior because they are not trained for interior attacks.
The money also got the department a large water trailer the firefighters draw from to attack a fire situation with any of the components.
The training facility includes a white burn tank that was donated and is used to carry out drills on oil or gas fires.
There are also two derelict cars on site.
One of the vehicles was donated by a firefighter and the other by Bedard’s Towing in South River.
Hollands says the towing company is being very generous to the fire department by swapping out vehicles as needed for firefighting training at no charge.
Hollands says when all the pieces and equipment arrived the firefighters spent two weeks putting everything together at no charge to the fire department or municipality.
Hollands says considering the small size of the municipality, municipal officials were grateful for the donated work because there was no impact to any of the budgets.
Hollands says the key to the training facility being created as quickly as it was is because of the $10,000 Enbridge grant.
“We would still have done it but it would have taken us a lot longer because we'd have to find money here and there,” Hollands says.
The work on the training facility isn’t done.
Hollands has plans to create a two-storey structure that’s 40 feet long and 21 feet wide.
Hollands says there won't be any live fires in it but it will be outfitted with smoke generators so firefighters can carry out search and rescues like they were in a real burning structure.
The fire chief adds because his firefighters are not trained for interior attacks, the proposed two-storey structure is designed for area fire departments whose personnel are qualified to enter burning buildings.
Hollands has applied to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation to make the two-storey training structure a reality.
He says the structure would cost about $30,000 of which the municipality would pay 10 per cent.
Hollands says the participating fire departments would pay a small fee to help offset maintenance costs.
As for which fire departments would have access to it, Hollands says so far it’s nearby communities that are part of the Northern Fire Protection Program (NFPP) which is overseen by Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal.
He's talked to his NFPP partners in Phelps, Restoule and Argyle and each fire department plans to use the facility.
Hollands has plans to reach out to more NFPP fire departments that are beyond the Nipissing District and Parry Sound District to train at the facility.
Hollands says it won’t be much, but when these firefighters from surrounding areas carry out weekend exercises at the training facility it will mean some economic activity for hotels and restaurants in the South River area.
Hollands says the Laurier Training Facility might not match the look of an RTC, but that won’t take away what the firefighters will gain from training at the site.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget