Ottawa Fire Services need a new training facility and are asking for help to build one
Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa Fire Services needs a new training facility and is putting out a call for partners to help build one.
The service’s current main training facility, a campus on Industrial Avenue near St-Laurent Boulevard, was built in the mid-1970s. It’s outdated and soon won’t be able to operate at all, leaving the service in a bind as training demands increase.

“When it was built, it was at the end of a road in basically a field,” David Matschke, deputy chief of operations, said in an interview on Thursday. “Now it’s surrounded by industrial, commercial and, just recently, residential occupancies. That’s the one that’s really hitting us hard because we make a mess and there’s lots of noise and lots of smoke. Houses and those things right around the current place are a challenge because of the concern of the neighbours.”

To make matters worse, an eight-story condo tower is being built on land adjacent to the facility. The people who will live there will be affected by smoke and flames from the burn structure where the firefighters learn to battle blazes.

“That’s about a year and a half away, and that’s what we think is going to be our cutoff date,” said Louise Hine-Schmidt, deputy chief of training and safety. “When there are people living there, we’re probably going to get shut down.”

Hine-Schmidt also noted the current site had insufficient classroom space and many of the basic necessities of a modern training facility — like women’s change rooms.

“It’s outgrown its use for us. It’s just not suitable anymore,” she said.

A new facility is badly needed, Hine-Schmidt and Matschke said, especially since new Ontario legislation will require some Ottawa firefighters to conduct additional training, a prospect that will likely overload the current facilities the service has to work with.
OFS wants to build a state-of-the-art facility, a 40-acre campus with exterior training yards, forested areas for search and rescue, burn structures for firefighting, roadways for vehicle collisions and, ideally, an indoor facility so they can train to fight fires year-round — which they can’t currently do.

But such a facility would be costly, with pre-pandemic estimates coming in at more than $80 million, including the cost of land. Now, due to material cost increases and inflation, that number would likely be much higher.

It’s a sum the service, and the city, can’t afford. “We have to remember we’re just one service within the city,” Matschke said, “and there’s always other city pressures that are there, as well, that we’re competing against, but I think we’re going down the right road now.”

So the service is seeking partners to help. It has issued a request for expressions of interest, an REOI for short, to test the waters and see if a private or government partner would swoop in to help finance the project.

“We have 25 per cent of the money, and we’re looking to find partnerships to reach the other 75 per cent,” Matschke said.

Additionally, the service is hoping a potential partner can provide land where the new facility can be built.

The land would provide OFS with a quick fix to some of the problems it has with the current outdated training facility: It would be able to move a transportable burn structure there in the near future and continue firefighting training without bothering nearby residents.

Matschke and Hine-Schmidt said they were optimistic about partners materializing, possibly at the government level, and potentially a party that wanted to conduct research, for which the new facility would be ideal.

But, even in an ideal situation, the facility would take years to plan and build, and the service is already facing training challenges as it shuffles firefighters and recruits around to several smaller facilities.

“We’re managing right now,” Hine-Schmidt said. “We’re using everything we have all the time, and we’re still not getting everything done.”


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