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A 'paramilitary' academy

Monte Sonnenberg

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

An open house for the new fire academy at the former experimental farm on Schafer Side Road was held this weekend. Having fun with a fire hose were Kody Hamm of Wabasheen and sisters Jaren, Jordan and Jerica Warford of Burlington. The children’s parents will be instructors at the new facility. (MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer)

An open house for the new fire academy at the former experimental farm on Schafer Side Road was held this weekend. Having fun with a fire hose were Kody Hamm of Wabasheen and sisters Jaren, Jordan and Jerica Warford of Burlington. The children’s parents will be instructors at the new facility. (MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer)

DELHI - 

The routine at the Southwest Fire Academy in Delhi is designed to concentrate the mind.

 

Aspiring firefighters arrive for their two-week training session with only as much as they can carry in a tote box.

They sleep in a barracks with bunk beds and are expected to rise every morning at 5:30 a.m.

They perform calisthenics at 6 a.m. then shower, shave and have breakfast. Their sleeping quarters, uniforms and appearance are subject to inspection at 7:50 a.m. Everything must be neat and tidy and in good order.

From 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., students submit to a written exam on the instruction they received the day before. They then receive field training from 9 a.m. till 5:30 p.m. Trainees maintain an 80 per cent average or they don’t graduate.

“It’s a boot camp,” Gord Roesch, president of the Southwest Fire Academy, said during an open house Saturday. “It’s paramilitary.”

The Southwest academy has breathed new life into the former experimental farm on Schafer Road west of Delhi. The federal government sold the 150-acre property last year to the Kloepfer family of Courtland, owners of Titan Trailers.

Roesch and his partners Training Division, of Texas, were searching for a location in southern Ontario when a Norfolk firefighter pointed them in the direction of the experimental farm. The property had been dormant since 2013 but all buildings have been maintained in good repair.

Training Division was interested in establishing an academy in Ontario because 80 per cent of its students in Texas were from Canada. The academy’s first class of 24 students began their studies Friday. Their two weeks in Delhi will cost them a shade under $7,000.

“Some are volunteer firefighters,” Roesch said. “The majority are students who want to get their credentials for fire department deployment.”

Training on extricating crash victims from vehicles was underway during the open house. There was also a demonstration of the rappelling skills firefighters will need for rescuing people who have fallen down embankments and the like. Kids were given a safe, controlled opportunity to squeeze off a fire hose.

Given the wildfire catastrophe in Fort MacMurray, the firefighting situation in northern Alberta wasn’t far from the conversation over the weekend. Southwest academy provides training in groundfire suppression of the kind Norfolk County has to undertake during dry, windy Aprils. Beyond that, aspiring firefighters have to go elsewhere for this kind of training.

“Wildland firefighting is a whole different brand of firefighting,” Roesch said. “We do some basic groundfire instruction, but nothing like Fort MacMurray is facing. Those smoke-jumper guys – they’re a whole different breed.”

Visitors were impressed with this new chapter in the life of the experimental farm. The facility was founded in 1933 and was the scene of many advancements in tobacco farming.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Brian Willems, a long-time volunteer firefighter at Station 3 in Waterford. “It’s badly needed, especially in this day and age.”

The Southwest academy and Training Division have invested $500,000 in equipment. Carol Juhasz of Tillsonburg thinks it’s wonderful that local firefighters have a resource like this just up the road from where they live and work.

“It’s great,” Juhasz said. “I don’t think they have anything local like it. Everyone has to go some distance to get instruction like this. This facility appears to have everything they would need.”

As a house-keeping matter, the Southwest academy needs a site-specific zoning amendment to make its use of the Schafer Road property legal. Norfolk council will entertain this amendment at its regular meeting May 24.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com