Huntsville Council has thrown its support behind a pilot project for the remainder of 2021 that will see the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Fire Department’s facility in Port Sydney used as a regional training centre.
As part of the pilot project, staff will enter into an agreement with the Ontario Fire College to designate the facility as a regional training centre that will offer training to participating fire departments on a cost-recovery basis.
“This is something that for the past six months we have been considering, and then we got a bit of a jolt when the Fire College [in Gravenhurst] actually closed,” fire chief Rob Collins told Huntsville council at its April 26 meeting. He said the plan is to make the training facility available to other fire departments within the District of Muskoka through the Muskoka Association of Fire Chiefs.
“As council is aware, we have a very good training facility. There’s been lots of interest from the rest of the Muskoka chiefs, in terms of using it. The other thing that kind of pushed us along, even before the college closure, was that it was beginning [to be] more and more difficult to get people registered in courses at the college. So, by becoming a regional training centre we would be able to offer those college courses and our priority would be for our own firefighters, and then for firefighters from the neighbouring municipalities, and then we would also, if we had extra capacity, we could open it up to firefighters from anywhere in the province.”
Collins said at first they were not certain whether it would be a worthwhile endeavour while the college in Gravenhurst was still open but once the closure occurred it became quickly apparent “that we could make this work and it could be to our advantage and to our neighbours’ advantage so we put the proposal together.”
He said discussions have taken place with the pertinent authorities who have inspected the facility, reviewed programming, and have given the approval to designate the location as a regional training centre, with council’s approval.
Most of the courses offered will be staffed by qualified instructors within the organization, “so we will be able to staff most of the courses with our own people. There will be some specialized technical rescue courses and things like that where we would contract out to an outside agency to come in and do it. We would only do that if we could be sure that we would recover all of the costs through tuition,” Collins said, adding that the cost of any course offered must be 100 per cent recoverable.
Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano said she and fellow District councillors lobbied against the closure of the Gravenhurst facility. “We’re not trying to make the sun shine on their rain but the timing has worked well and we were trying to supplement the fire college down there for training anyway,” she added.
Huntsville Councillor Jonathan Wiebe asked Collins where he saw the initiative in five years.
“I tend to be a little bit less optimistic when it comes to projects like this. So, it would be great if in five years it was a self-sustaining fire school, and that’s possible I suppose but our plans are to move it slowly. For example, for the remainder of 2021 we believe there are four courses that we could deliver. Those courses would, again, recover all the costs and actually make a little money that could be put toward improvements,” said Collins. “I think it’s an ambitious goal to make it sort of its own self-sufficient entity but, you know, if everything went well that possibility I think is there… if it grows and it’s manageable then yes it could be a very viable entity on its own.”
Prompted by a question by Huntsville Councillor Dione Schumacher, Collins said there is a long-term capital plan to improve the facility over the next few years. “I think once we get the enhancements that we’re looking for we will be one of the premier regional training centres in the province, certainly outside of the GTA. So, I’m kind of excited about the potential that we have there in Port Sydney, and I think it can become a very impressive facility by the time we’re done.”
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