Ontario Fire College Provides a Unique Training Experience

Ontario Fire College Provides a Unique Training Experience

By Mark Whittick & Deborah Chute
Volunteer Firefighters, Adjala-Tosorontio Township Fire Department

On a warm long weekend in May 2012, a nondescript yellow school bus pulled into Gravenhurst, Ontario, en route to the Ontario Fire College (OFC). The bus was full of our motley group of individuals. We were far from our homes, family, and friends. We arrived as farmers, salespeople, mechanics, students, and trade workers, but we all had one goal in mind - to leave as firefighters.

Wayne McIsaac, Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Chief, had put together a team of chiefs, captains, and senior firefighters to get us ready for this training weekend and for the many weeks beyond. His curriculum approach, vision, and leadership had helped us on our respective paths to fulfilling our potential and we had been training for months as a recruit class.

On our arrival we were greeted by half a dozen OFC instructors, who right off the top made the expectations clear and set the tone for our evolution. Strict but fair, knowledgeable and experienced, all of them commanded respect and inspired us to pursue our best. We knew we were in great hands. We thought the stories of the tough-as-nails instructors had been greatly exaggerated until Caring and Compassion entered the room. They were the two toughest OFC characters we had ever met. They also gave us the best learning experiences with their no-nonsense style.

“Remember us! Welcome to the burn house!” Said in an ominous voice, these were words we would never forget. They were said by Caring and Compassion just as the firefighter recruits were about to enter the burning house. It was the first time that all the recruits would come face to face with fire, in close quarters. We had trained, very seriously for months prior, to do this. All of our training came together in that 20-minute evolution. The experience was life-changing and each one of us made it through.

Over the next few days we crawled, carried, and dragged. We searched, got sweaty, and became entangled. We woke with sore muscles and sore backs. We greeted each day with the same nervous excitement. We ended each day with an even greater sense of accomplishment and we held our heads high as we talked about our day’s experiences at a local meeting place.

The experience we gained at the OFC gave us more than practical knowledge. It fostered a sense of togetherness and belonging. Caring and Compassion and the other instructors may at first have looked at us as a ragtag band of individual raw recruits but we were quickly made to understand that we were their raw recruits and that we would all work together to become the best we could be.

The last day at the OFC came and went. It was a month later before we had our graduation and were honoured to call ourselves rookie firefighters. To help us celebrate, along with our families and friends were some familiar faces. Caring and Compassion were the two of the first to welcome us into the firefighter family.

The firefighter recruit class from Adjala-Tosorontio Township Fire Department.

We still have a long way to go. We are finding our places in our halls and we continue to go out on calls and train with our station crews. But everywhere we go, we carry the experience and the wisdom we learned from the OFC instructors. The training may have lasted only a few short days but the experience will last a lifetime.

The writers would like to thank the other contributors to this article including Jacqueline Doherty, Robin Earl, Laura Gillett, Kaitlyn Housh and Anthony Steip, also of the Adjala-Tosorontio Township Fire Department.