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Alarm raised over fire college closure

Armour Township Reeve Bob MacPhail believes closing the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst is a big mistake that will cost municipalities a lot more money to train their firefighters.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General announced the college’s closure in mid January, planning to replace the facility with 20 regional training centres.

The college, which has trained many thousands of firefighters over the decades, is to close March 31.

Following last month’s announcement, the Township of Augusta, near Brockville, passed a resolution calling on the province to reverse the decision and Ontario municipal councils to support its resolution.

The resolution made its way to the Almaguin Highlands region this month with several councils, including Magnetawan, Machar and South River, supported saving the college.

MacPhail says the public can add his council to the growing list of communities that want the college to remain open.

He says aside from the mileage expense to get firefighters to the college, the cost for each visit was only $65, including training and room and board at the college.

“But once you get into the new model (the regional training centres), the courses will cost hundreds of dollars, and that doesn’t even include food and lodgings,” MacPhail says.

“Where can you send a firefighter for training for $65? You can’t. We’ll have to put them up at hotels and they’ll eat at restaurants. So that total of $65 quickly becomes $200 a day. And this is why places like Augusta and us are concerned. We just can’t afford that.”

MacPhail says some municipalities may be able to absorb the additional expense of sending their firefighters to the regional training centres, “but what about the ones that can’t?

“The scary part for me is municipalities that can’t absorb the cost are going to have to cut things. But then what do they cut?” MacPhail asks. “Do they cut some of their fire services or do they find savings somewhere else in their municipality?”

If municipalities chose not to cut other services and still want to send their firefighters to the regional training centres, MacPhail says the only alternative is to raise taxes.

To the best of his knowledge, MacPhail says, municipalities were not consulted before the solicitor general announced the fire college closure.

Armour receives its fire protection from the fire station in Burk’s Falls, which also protects the Township of Ryerson through a shared service agreement.

MacPhail says fire personnel from the Burk’s Falls Fire Station, as well as Magnetawan, Perry, Kearney and McMurrich-Monteith, attended the college on a regular basis for in-class and practical training. Personnel from all five fire halls would train as a group.

Although a growing list of municipalities opposes the fire college closure, Solicitor General Minister Sylvia Jones has the support for her decision from four key players in firefighting.

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario and the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association all support the regional training centres.

MacPhail speculates they are not considering the cost to municipalities. However, he assures fire training won’t stop even if the cost increases.

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“But if we can avoid it and keep Gravenhurst open, that’s the preferred way to do it.”

Muskoka MPP Norm Miller’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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