The Huntsville/Lake of Bays Fire Department’s (HLOB) training facility in Port Sydney will offer Ontario Fire College courses as a regional training centre.

Huntsville council passed the motion put forward by HLOB Fire Chief Rob Collins Monday night.

“We were actually looking at this before the closure of the Gravenhurst campus,” he tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom. The Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst was decommissioned on March 31st with the province moving to open 20 regional facilities to offer training for firefighters. Before that happened, officials with the college had been working with some departments like HLOB to put their training facilities to use as regional centres offer college courses. Once it was announced the college would be closing for good, Collins says his team kicked into high gear to get everything set up that is needed.

“If it goes well it could be something that becomes permanent,” Mayor Karin Terziano says of the pilot project. For the rest of the year, four courses will be run at the centre mostly staffed by local firefighters. 

According to Collins, “over 40” volunteer firefighters have expressed interest in helping, adding they have “quite a number” of volunteer firefighters that have gone through the certification process needed to become a teacher at the college. He says he wants to use the existing pool of local firefighters. “It involves taking a few courses on adult education practices,” he explains about the process of getting certified. “They also have to have some experience on whatever their teaching.”

“It’s good for our people because it gets them some extra work,” Collins says. “Anyone that’s a volunteer firefighter in my experience is always looking for more ways to be involved.”

Terziano says the training facility in Port Sydney was already handling some of the “overflow” from the Ontario Fire College, so there isn’t a lot of work that needs to be done before it can be used as a regional centre. She says having this operational won’t just benefit the local firefighters, but the surrounding area as well since they won’t have to send prospects to other parts of the province for training. “Our hope we can train all of Muskoka and do it on a daily basis where there may not be overnight costs,” Terziano says.

While this facility will be expanded on going forward, Collins says it was born partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new recruits that were brought on last year weren’t able to get formal training because of virus-related restrictions, so this training facility will be set up to help the 16 new recruits coming on this year, including some from Muskoka Lakes and Georgian Bay Township. “That will be our first effort,” Collins says, adding work is already underway to get everything in place for that to happen next month. 

The college-affiliated courses won’t start until 2022, though. 

Collins says they had been working to get everything in place ahead of council’s approval. “We could run a course tomorrow with the infrastructure that’s there,” he says. 

Once operational, the plan is to constantly improve the facility and what is offered. While this was born during the COVID-19 pandemic, Collins says this facility running at full steam won’t just benefit HLOB, but the other fire departments in Muskoka and the surrounding area as well.