Rookie firefighters learn how to control a car fire during a training exercise at Otter Point Fire Rescue Training Centre. Both Sooke and Metchosin fire departments are working together to train new firefighters.

Sooke recruits learn firefighting skills

12 new recruits will be tested at the Otter Point Fire Training Centre over the next few weekends.

Between the serene and rainy backwoods of Otter Point lies a special place. It’s where classroom knowledge meets the real world in an adrenaline-pumping experience.

It’s called the Otter Point Fire Rescue Training Centre, the training grounds for countless firefighter recruits over the years who’ve found volunteer positions in Sooke, Metchosin, Otter Point and East Sooke fire departments.

Here, instructors walk recruits through numerous scenarios, such as a car fire, a garbage bin fire, a propane fire and a full-scale multi-storey building fire.

It’s more than just teaching what to do in an A, B, or C scenario, it’s about practicing on working together effectively as a team if there is a real emergency, said Lt. Chris McCrae, a training instructor and veteran firefighter with Sooke Fire Rescue.

“We teach the guys to work as a team and we all train at the same standard, because it just helps become more familiar with each other and create that camaraderie,” he said, adding there are typically teams of two or three recruits, each one with an instructor.

A solid start, considering this is one of the first practical sessions, which also includes learning the correct firefighting techniques and making sure they use equipment properly.

Several more weekends of training lie ahead until their last training session where they get tested on everything they’ve learned.

“We want to make 100 per cent sure that they’re doing it safe and doing it properly,” McCrae said, adding that every recruit gets a role, whether they’re the one handling the tools, hose, or nozzle.

During one exercise a dust bin was on fire. In teams of three, recruits had to work systematically to take out the fire safely; tool specialist opens the lid, a steady stream of water jets into the fire, followed by “fog,” an intensive spray pattern that protects everyone from any flash flames.

In another simulation, recruits had to take out a car completely engulfed in flames. Similar to the dust bin, they were tasked to first focus on the source of the fire (the engine bay) then make their way down to the interior and the trunk.

Just being a simulation doesn’t mean it’s not any less dangerous than the real deal either, said instructor Darcy Abell who supervises the training sessions.

“There’s an orientation session that we need to go through with Otter Point Fire to make sure we’re signed off to run the facility, we can’t risk anyone getting hurt,” he said.

“When we go to use the next [training] prop, the other one is trained off. You can’t do live fire and use props at the same time, because you can’t have something burning and have propane outside.”

Other training areas include an open fuel pit and a multi-storey building that can simulate everything from a basement fire, a kitchen fire, upstairs fire, including entrapment situations.

Recruits are also taught how to cut a hole through the roof of a house to help vent a fire raging inside.

Without doubt, it’s hard work for the dozen recruits from Sooke and Metchosin, but equally rewarding, such as for Stephen Malkow, a recruit from Metchosin who started in January.

“It’s intensive and there’s lots to learn, but it’s awesome,” he said. “We have lots of good leadership from both departments helping us and training us. They really want us to succeed.”

Malkow said one of the most inspiring aspects for him to become a volunteer firefighter is to be able to help the community in a positive way.

“At the end of the day, you’re doing something good for the community. I definitely look forward to becoming fully certified.”

It’s just as rewarding for the instructors themselves to see such enthusiasm shine through, noted McCrae.

“These guys are very keen and engaged, and it’s a spectacular thing for us to be able to come here and use this [facility] all the time.”

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