After helping train firefighters from across Canada and the globe under a new blaze-battling curriculum it developed, Ottawa Fire Services is poised to roll out that new training to all of its 1,400 firefighters.
In order to do that, the department needs continued access to the site where it set up its training facility — a 36-hectare parcel of land located in the southwest end of Ottawa — and so it’s asking the city for an extension to a zoning change approved two years ago.
Deputy Fire Chief Sean Tracey said the opportunity for all Ottawa firefighters to benefit from a now globally-recognized training curriculum — a process he estimates will take about three years — is “huge.”
“This is a watershed moment,” said Tracey, who oversees the department’s training, safety and innovation division. “When we look back 10 years from now, we’ll see that this project that Ottawa Fire Services led with has resulted in fundamental changes to how we train and instruct firefighters so they can become more effective and safer in their operations.”
“I think Ottawa should be proud of this work that’s been done and this site that we currently have has been instrumental.”
The new training program came about after an agency at the federal Department of National Defence awarded Ottawa Fire Services with a project several years ago to develop an international curriculum on fire dynamics. The new training needed to incorporate how fire behaviour has changed in recent decades as buildings and residences increasingly are constructed or furnished with more combustible materials.
Through courses and exercises, like on controlled burns, firefighters learn “how to fight modern contents fires,” Tracey said. They’re taught to examine the flow path of hot gases and how to cool those gases coming from the flames, as well as how to work with thermal imaging cameras.
The training facility located at 4041 Moodie Dr., which is south of Barnsdale Road, outside of Barrhaven, features sea containers, water storage tanks, tankers and pumpers, according to a report submitted to the city’s agriculture and rural affairs committee.
The department originally secured a two-year temporary rezoning amendment from city council in 2016 to use the Moodie Drive site, which is set to expire mid-September. Officials are applying for a one-year extension to that interim rezoning, which Tracey said would see them through to September 2019 and give them more time to prepare an application for permanent rezoning.
Under the city’s official plan, the land on Moodie Drive is designated for sand and gravel pit use. The current zoning measures allow for mineral extraction operations.
The agriculture and rural affairs committee will consider Ottawa Fire Services’ request for a year-long temporary zoning extension at its next scheduled meeting on June 7.
New training program attracted international attention
Ottawa Fire initially had a budget of $1.2 million to develop the new training curriculum, but Tracey said the project quickly generated interest from fire departments across North America and in 11 other countries, who then threw extra money at the initiative.
“We parlayed basically $1.2 million into over $4 million in in-kind contributions to seeing this project happen,” Tracey said.
The deputy fire chief said the new training curriculum has generated very positive responses from the Canadian and international firefighters who have taken it so far.
“The feedback from them was that this has been the best training that many of them have taken in their careers,” he said.
Thanks to a contribution of about US$500,000 Tracey said Ottawa Fire Services was able to make all the curriculum’s materials available online so fire departments worldwide can facilitate and follow the training at home.
“We have also been meeting with international standards bodies to have this training incorporated into their standards and we’ve been successful in this regard,” he added.
Tracey could not provide a figure for the cost associated with putting all Ottawa firefighters through the training program, but said it would be covered using the department’s existing operating budget.
The national capital’s fire department employs both full-time and volunteer firefighters.