Joint Training Action Group in Elgin County

Joint Training Action Group in Elgin County

In May of 2010, a small group of Eastern Elgin County Fire Chiefs came together to discuss their shared vision – reducing the length of time required for recruits to enter into active duty and improving the quality of firefighter training in the region. They may not have known it at the time, but this discussion would pave the way toward improved firefighter health and safety that continues to grow strong today.

“The need to work together to develop our firefighters and officers was obvious,” said Bayham Fire Chief Gord Roesch. “With most fire departments training two times per month for two hours, it would have taken four years to get through Component One of the Firefighter Curriculum. This initiative has allowed the smaller departments to develop and establish training expertise and resources within their departments, while keeping training at a reasonable cost.”

Personal protective equipment and self contained breathing apparatus
Personal protective equipment and self contained breathing apparatus

Challenges to Overcome

The first official meeting saw fire chiefs from Aylmer, Bayham, Central Elgin, Norfolk, St. Thomas, and Tillsonburg fire departments gather to identify their training needs and their training resources. They also discussed their respective challenges for improved firefighter training including the cost of training, finding qualified instructors, specialized equipment and program materials.

To overcome these challenges, the fire chiefs decided to solicit other local departments to determine if they were interested in participating in a Joint Training Action Group (JTAG) with a focus on recruit firefighter and officer training, instructor development, and offering specialty programs (i.e., pump operations, rope rescue and water rescue), to all partners.

Aerial Training
Aerial Training

Ladder training
Ladder training

Early Successes

Having identified their needs and challenges, the first priority was for the group to develop and conduct a recruit firefighter training program. This was done through a large number of volunteer firefighters who committed their time to preparing lesson plans and to delivering training to the new recruits and to the delivery of Ontario Fire College courses. This venture was modeled after Chief Roesch’s experience as a Midland firefighter, himself having been a recruit instructor in a similar partnership developed by the Towns of Midland and Penetanguishene and the Townships of Tiny, Tay and Georgian Bay.

The JTAG began with initial expectations of 18 firefighters for the January 2011 recruit training class. There were 48; resulting in the need for two classes! Each class trained one weekend a month, with the same instructor. Trainer facilitators from all JTAG members were used. Overall, the recruits received 110 hours of classroom time over six weekends. They completed their required readings prior to class and their practical training was conducted in two vacant homes in the municipalities involved.

The completion of the training occurred during July 15 to 17, 2011 and the 40 remaining recruits demonstrated what they had learned at Burlington’s indoor/outdoor training centre with live fire training and curriculum sign offs. A graduation ceremony took place in August and was hosted by the Aylmer Fire Department and Firefighters Association. In September the firefighters wrote the Office of the Fire Marshal Firefighter Component One exam.

News of the first class’ success spread across the region. Sixty new recruits from 10 fire departments attended the 2012 training. In 2013, 72 new recruits from 10 fire departments are enrolled and there are now three classes to provide the training. To accommodate all the different department schedules, class one and two will be conducted simultaneously on the same weekends each month and class three will be held on Saturdays.

Ventilation training
Ventilation training

Live fire training tower at the Burlington Training Centre
Live fire training tower at the Burlington Training Centre

Results Have Been Positive

The response to the recruit training has been very positive from both the students and the instructor’s perspectives. Benefits include the sharing of lesson plans, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, practical training scenarios for the firefighter curriculum and Ministry of Labour Occupational Health & Safety Section 21 Guidance Notes. In addition, firefighters from different stations within a department and from other participating departments, have a chance to network, meet and work with firefighters from neighboring departments, which has promoted the use of mutual aid and intra department relations.

From June to December of each year the JTAG focuses its efforts on conducting further training to assist in the development of experienced firefighters and officers. These programs include water and ice rescue, rope rescue, train-the-trainer programs, associate instructor designations, Red Cross instructor certification, Basic Pumper Operations, Company Officer Level 1 and 2, Firefighter Curriculum Component 2 courses, and other training opportunities.

Malahide Fire Chief Paul Groeneveld believes the JTAG has met its goals for training. He summarized the effectiveness of the recruit training program by saying “It was rewarding to see our new recruits so knowledgeable and prepared in firefighting techniques, it was like having a firefighter who has been on the department for four years.”

After the 2013 recruit program, approximately one third of the Malahide Fire Services firefighters will have completed the recruit training program.

“Besides achieving economies of scale in training over 40 volunteer recruit firefighters to a level where: a) they will have been signed off on all of their theory and practical requirements within a six-month period, and b) they will be able to challenge the Ontario Firefighter Curriculum Component One examination, there have been many other positive spin-offs,” said Bob Davidson, former Deputy Chief, Norfolk County Fire Services. “These spin-offs include the tremendous network/relationship building that has taken place between the participating municipalities, the renewed desire of existing veteran firefighters to participate in this type of training program, the sharing of other inter-departmental training initiatives, the establishment of a JTAG website, and the establishment of a shared training library of teaching plans and presentations.”

 2011 recruit class at the Burlington Training Centre2011 recruit class at the Burlington Training Centre

Final Words

“The strong commitment from the fire departments Senior Officers and instructors was instrumental in the success of the new recruit and other training programs,” said Bayham Fire Chief Gord Roesch.

Today, JTAG includes 12 fire departments from Elgin, Norfolk and Oxford Counties and provides training to a contingent of more than 900 volunteer firefighters. The participating fire departments include: Aylmer, Bayham, Blandford-Blenheim, Central Elgin, East Zorra-Tavistock, Malahide, Norfolk, Norwich, Southwest Oxford, St. Thomas, Tillsonburg, and Zorra.

Since its creation in 2010, participating JTAG fire departments have trained more than 170 new recruits.  JTAG has more than 15 Associate Instructors and Train the Trainers who have been qualified through the Ontario Fire College and together, they have delivered more than 20 training courses.  The group has also accommodated requests from other fire departments to participate in the specialty training programs they offer.  These courses include water and ice rescue, auto extrication, Company Officer Levels 1 and 2 courses, emergency patient care, and fire scene assessment;  providing training to more than 300 existing firefighters across the three Counties.

This article was compiled by Nelly Green, OFM Fire Protection Adviser.