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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex enters into MoU with Southwest Fire Academy for regional firefighter training

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Essex Council approved entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Town of Essex and Southwest Fire Academy for firefighter training that could extend beyond the municipality and benefit neighbouring departments.

The decision was made during its regular meeting on November 6.

Jason Pillon, Acting Essex Fire Chief, explained the Administration and senior officials of Southwest Fire Academy created a Memorandum of Understanding, seeking approval to have a local training academy for firefighters, which will operate out of Fire Station 2 that is located near McGregor.

Pillon noted Essex Fire & Rescue has been working with Southwest Fire Academy for several years. It has provided a variety of firefighting training to local firefighters through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) certification process, which is mandatory. In addition, it has offered pump operation courses, firefighter succession courses, and officer succession training.

In November 2022, Southwest Fire Academy provided an NFPA certification course to members of Essex Fire at the newly built Essex Station 2. At this time, Southwest identified that this new station – with its large training room – would be the perfect spot for a satellite training location. Based on interest and needs for fire service training, Southwest has identified the demand to develop training programs for fire departments in the Southwestern Ontario region, the Report to Council notes.

“We may only have one or two people who require training, so we are not going to run a course strictly for Essex,” Pillon said. Southwest, he added, can run that course and open it to neighbouring fire departments.

It also gives Essex Firefighters the opportunity to take a course. Perhaps previously, they did not have the availability to take one as they were mostly available on the weekend out-of-town. Now they would be able to, he said.

Currently the closest regional training centres are in Middlesex and Lambton counties. He said it was a lot to ask Firefighters to go. If regional training is offered here, they are closer to home and to their families.

This would also assist in training recruits, Pillon added. Currently, Essex Fire is short several firefighters and it does not hold a recruit process until there are enough recruits to make running a course practical.

Southwest will be able to offer that annually, with neighbouring municipalities.

“At the end of the day, it helps with safety, ensuring we have enough people to respond to calls,” he said.

“Our firefighters hold themselves to a high standard. They want to train. They want to get better. They want to provide the best service possible. This partnership would definitely benefit the Fire Department”

Southwest Fire Academy is an accredited Private Career College that is regulated by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, with a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the Fire Marshal. Southwest Fire Academy is an approved training provider with the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office and all their programs are recognized in Ontario for firefighter certifications, the Report to Council adds.

Some of these courses include advanced forcible entry, firefighter survival, and modern fire behaviour. These courses will allow firefighters the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience from elite-level instructors.

The Report to Council noted that more than 30 recruits are needed each year to allow the departments of Essex County to maintain their current staffing levels. “Investing in recruit training is not only about creating capable firefighters, but also about building a resilient and effective fire service that can meet the ever-changing needs of the community it serves.

“Southwest Fire Academy will be able to provide this training which will reduce the timeline to fulfill vacant positions.”

Southwest Fire Academy will pay the Corporation of the Town of Essex 15 percent of the gross course revenue per course held at Station 2, of which 80 percent of those revenues will be put into the firefighter training reserve and 20 percent put into the Station 2 Operating account to offset any potential operating costs.

Southwest Fire Academy will also pay any additional water expenses incurred, and any firefighter staff time, should they need firefighters to assist with their programming.

Jake Morassut, Director of Community Services, noted Essex Administration and Essex Fire have been working on this file for around a year. Staff are always looking to find ways to generate additional revenue streams to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley thanked Pillon and Morassut for looking at this opportunity for not the local firefighters, but those throughout the region. He believes it is a fantastic idea.

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