Niagara-on-the-Lake firefighter recruits spent Saturday training at the old nurse’s quarters on Byron Street.
Fire chief Nick Ruller said the training, which is the first session since the global COVID-19 pandemic put things on hold, will help prep the recruits to get out in the field.
He said the NOTL fire department has had access to the former nurse residence for almost two years.
The department uses it for recruits and regular firefighters to practise skills, drills and scenarios. They “fill it with theatrical smoke and the crews have the opportunity to go through and perform various search drills and things like that throughout the structure,” Ruller said.
“Because it hasn’t been occupied in a while, and it’s an interesting layout, it allows us a lot of versatility to change the layouts on the interior and provide kind of a fresh environment every time the crews utilize that space.”
He said 15 new recruits were training Saturday.
“They’re just coming to the end of their recruit training program, which is about 300 hours,” Ruller said.
With eight instructors on hand training them, “This was an opportunity for them to get together, the first time since the pandemic in early March, which ended their regular training schedule.”
The recruits are prepping for “live fire” training on May 23 in Fort Erie, “so that they just had a chance to get their hands on all the equipment again, kind of reacquaint themselves,” he said.
Though the fire department isn’t required to social distance during training, firefighters are taking measures to be safe nonetheless.
“We split them into two groups, with the intent of trying to limit some of their exposure to each other,” Ruller said.
They also set up a station for each firefighter and they were wearing surgical masks when they didn’t have their self-contained breathing apparatus on.
“And then the usual, you know, hand hygiene and all that good stuff.”
Ruller said it’s been an “interesting few months” for the NOTL fire service.
“With us specifically it’s been challenging at times because the information changes so frequently that we’re constantly revising kind of our strategies once we get a little more information what the best practices are based on public health’s recommendations.”
He said the live fire day will be a “full day” with “Class A” burns, which use ordinary combustibles like skids and straw instead of fuel props.
“It is kind of a preferred training method from our perspective because it’s far more realistic to what would be a typical structure fire, because your smoke that is generated from Class A fuels tends to be a little bit darker, whereas when you’re just dealing with fuel burning props there’s not a lot of smoke.”
The goal is to get the recruits out operating “without restrictions,” he said.
“Up until this point they’ve started to respond to incidents, but we’ve been holding them back until we complete the live fire training.”