Constructed from shipping containers in 2016, Valemount’s live fire training centre will provide firefighters with hands-on experience in navigating house fires. The department will also install a freestanding door for forcible entry training. /ABIGAIL POPPLE

By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

The Valemount and District Volunteer Fire Department is among nine departments selected by the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC to receive funding for the establishment of a live-fire training centre for the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George.

Located in a lot off of Loseth Road, Valemount’s live fire training centre has been in the works since 2016, said Fire Chief Rick Lalonde. However, a COVID-related work stoppages and the retirement of the engineer tasked with signing the building’s occupancy permits have put roadblocks in the longtime plans to officially start training at the centre.

As such, Valemount firefighters have been sent to Quesnel to receive live fire training – a practice which not only costs money for the department, but is also a big ask of volunteers, said Lalonde.

“People have to book time off work to go to these things,” he said. “So people don’t go out of town for training because it’s just not feasible to take time off.”

Typically, a training session lasts one or two days, Lalonde explained. When that session is out of town, that means paying for hotel rooms, transit costs, and making sure enough firefighters are still in Valemount to keep the department running.

Now, with the acquisition of $30,000 in grant money, the Fire Department will be able to pay for inspection costs and hire an engineer to sign off on necessary permits so that training can take place closer to home. The grant money will also go towards a forcible entry prop: a metal door that will be placed near the training centre for firefighters to practice safely opening heavy doors. Finally, the Department will also construct a fence around the lot on which the centre is built to address security concerns raised by the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George.

“It’s been close to up and running,” Lalonde said of the current centre. “That’s why they picked us (to receive grant money). It’s just an excellent thing.”

Comprised of two shipping containers, one stacked on top of the other, the centre will simulate fires in multi-storey houses, Lalonde explained. Firefighters can practice suppressing a fire from downstairs as well as upstairs; they will also have the opportunity to train with combustibles such as diesel fuel and gasoline, and to practice putting out dumpster fires.
There’s still some red tape to contend with: Lalonde said that some department members will have to be recertified to provide training, and the building still needs occupational, electrical and gas permits. However, the centre should be up and running by the end of the year. Because live fire training typically takes place during cooler weather to reduce the risk of heat stroke and wildfire, Lalonde predicts that the centre will see its first training session in October or November. Once it’s operational, the centre will also serve nearby fire departments who need live fire training

A crucial page of the playbook

Lalonde explained that the reception of the grant coincides with updated Minimum Training Standards for BC firefighters – a manual typically referred to as the “Playbook,” among firefighters. The new standards require live fire training for more departments, he said, so it’s important for training centres to be accessible to remote communities.

BC Fire Commissioner Brian Godlonton agreed that access to training centres is crucial. “Live fire training is critical to ensure that firefighters are maintaining their skill set so they are prepared to safely respond to fires within their local communities,” he explained.

“The Province’s intention was to partner with local governments so they could apply for this grant funding,” Godlonton added. “Successful candidates would then be in a position to build live fire training courses for not only the community where it’s built, but so the neighbouring communities would be able to travel less distances to train.”

The Province will continue to work with local fire departments by communicating with the Fire Chiefs Association, Fire Prevention Officers’ Association of BC, and the Union of BC Municipalities, he concluded.