Eganville – North Algona Wilberforce council is pushing back against the announced closure of the fire training college in Gravenhurst by sending a strong letter of objection to the province citing unnecessary and costly budget increases on to the backs of township residents.
At last Tuesday’s council meeting, they reviewed a report authored by Acting/Fire Chief Kevin Champ regarding the closure.
“During a conference call with the Ontario Fire Marshal (OFM), it was announced that effective March 31 the Ontario Fire College (OFC) in Gravenhurst is closing permanently,” A/Chief Champ stated. “The fire department is losing an incredible training asset and has not been provided with any acceptable alternatives by the provincial government. Their intention is to offer courses online (only), in person at a Regional Training Center (RTC) or blending a combination of both.”
A/Chief Champ also stated that while online learning has its place within the fire service, the principles of adult learning show that people learn in different ways.
“I have found that most firefighters relate better to hands-on, in-person instruction rather than online,” he said. “The intent of the RTC model was to provide training without the travel involved with going to the OFC (learn during the day and be home at night).”
He said Renfrew County has no RTC and the nearest one is a two-hour drive away. Over a standard five day course, this would lead to 20 hours of driving. Since this is unacceptable, any students would require accommodations during the training, he said.
The report included a breakdown of costs and the impact the closure would have on the township in terms of costs and the need to dramatically increase the amount of money set aside each year for training.
Courses at the OFC were invoiced at $65 per course, which included on site accommodations and most meals.
The average cost of the same course at a RTC is $385. This does not include meals (5 x $69= $345) or accommodations (5 x $125 = $625). The minimal costs involved for one firefighter is $1355.
Historically, the NAW Fire Department has sent between 10 and 12 students to the college for training each year. At a cost of $1355 for a one week course at an RTC, compared to $100 at the Gravenhurst site will be a significant impact on outside training.
His report provided four options for council to consider. Council could lobby the province to reverse the decision; participate in the RTC program with its associated cost increases; participate in the RTC program as current funding allows or co-ordinate at a county level to establish a truly local RTC.
All of council agreed the announced closure would have a dramatic impact on the upcoming budget and also may affect the ability to attract recruits to the all-volunteer force, something Councillor Doug Buckwald spoke of.
He is currently a Captain and has served on the fire department for several years. He said nothing found online can replace the hands-on training offered at the college.
“It is an eye-opener to go down there and see firsthand what is being offered at the college,” Coun. Buckwald said. “Along with the training, you meet other volunteers from all parts of Ontario and some are brand new with only a paper qualification and others who have been doing this for years and everyone walks away having learned something new.”
Councillor Janet Reiche-Schoenfeldt inquired about utilizing the fire expertise at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in Chalk River.
“Is there any way we can put a bug in the ears of the folks at CNL about using their fire training facility for a fee because after all they are in the business of making money now since they are a private business,” she said. “I know there may be concerns about security and other things, but they might be a good choice as a regional training centre.”
Council opted to lobby the province in order to have the decision reversed and to have staff draft letters for both the province and CNL to inquire about the possibility of utilizing CNL resources as a regional training centre.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader