“Because of minimum staffing requirements to ensure the city is protected, this training can only be accomplished with offering overtime to firefighters on their days off,” said chief supporting a local training centre.
A Barrie-based training centre for firefighters will benefit city residents and the municipal budget, Barrie fire chief John Lynn told city council last week.
The lack of one will require Barrie firefighters to continue to seek mandated training out of the region, resulting in overtime costs totalling as much as $1 million a year, Lynn wrote in a memo to council. Those costs could be dramatically reduced with a local centre, he said.
The memo came as a result of a request for more information from council about the proposed Barrie Fire and Emergency Service Training Facility. Live fire training and other related techniques can’t be done locally, forcing the fire department to seek training from centres in Gravenhurst and/or the GTA.
The centres are designed to provide firefighters with a realistic experience for training purposes.
Lynn told council that the use of abandoned buildings for such training is not suitable, “and has led to multiple firefighter injuries and deaths as conditions are uncontrollable.”
The training requirement stems from the coroner’s 2003 inquest into the death of Barrie firefighter Bill Wilkins, out of which came the recommendation that more centres be established in Ontario. However, said Lynn, few have been created, and none close to Barrie.
“Because of minimum staffing requirements to ensure the city is protected, this training can only be accomplished with offering overtime to firefighters on their days off. There is no requirement for firefighters to accept this training and in fact the Fire Protection and Prevention Act legislates that a firefighters time-off is free from duties.”
According to Lynn, the bill for renting a facility, travel and overtime for 12 firefighters, is $8,000 a day. It would cost $83,000 to provide the department’s 124 firefighters with one day of live fire training. Two days a year is considering industry minimum standard, so the bill for those two days would be a minimum of $186,000 a year, said Lynn.
Those costs will only grow when stations five and six come online, each requiring an additional 20 firefighters. A Barrie-based centre would also allow firefighters to train in shifts, and use their own equipment, both of which are currently not doable with out-of-town training, said Lynn. Equipment needs to stay in Barrie to respond to local needs.
“With our own facility we could achieve more than the minimum standard calls for and … enhance firefighter and public safety.”
Other training needs that drive up costs are:
• hazmat training for 80 staff over eight days, $320,000
• high angle training for 30 staff over eight days, $120,000
• confined space training for 30 staff over eight days, $120,000
• trench rescue training for 20 staff over 10 days, $100,000
That adds up to $660,000 a year, and with the $186,000 for live fire training, a total of $852,000.
However, “in order to provide yearly training to industry best standards with current status quo, we would require just over $1 million a year,” wrote Lynn.
With a Barrie-based centre, those costs could be dramatically reduced, said Lynn, as training could be provided on-duty, negating overtime requirements. Current service levels would not be hampered, he added.
“The opportunity exists to further reduce costs by renting the facility out to other user groups, such as Georgian College and other fire services. It is anticipated that the revenue produced from renting the facility will pay for the annual operating costs and contribute to the capital upgrades.”