Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield is located in Southeast Alberta, approximately 50 kilometres west of Medicine Hat, CFB Suffield has been the site of military training in the region since 1972 and is host to the largest military training area in Canada, conducting the largest live-fire training exercises in the country.
The Manoeuvre Training Area covers 1,588 square kilometres of a 2,700 square kilometre base. The mission of CFB Suffield is to provide a world class, sustainable Range and Training Area that enables the Canadian Armed Forces, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) – Suffield Research Centre, the British Army Training Unit Suffield and other potential users to achieve their mandates through effective stewardship of all the Range Training Area, infrastructure and equipment. The base fire department provides 24hr coverage to support the mission of CFB Suffield.
Three years ago CFB Suffield Fire Services moved into a new 2,133m2 fire station at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield. This was a very positive start to the process of making positive change within our organization. Prior to making the move to the new station, myself and several members of our department discussed the potential to deliver in house courses that would meet the requirements of the National Defence Fire Services (NDFS) with regards to International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) or National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications (ProBoard) accredited certification. Now that we are in our new home with room for all of our vehicles and equipment, and the members being comfortable with their surroundings, it is time to push forward with improving our services. This is necessary in order to meet the fire prevention and emergency response needs of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield, British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS), Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and other users of our Military Base.
After having discussions with Fire Services personnel, an action plan was developed to determine the way forward for developing our training and certification program. The first step was to ensure we had qualified instructors to lead our training. In order for our own personnel to instruct courses for accredited certification they are required to first be certified to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1041 Standard for Fire Services Instructor Professional Qualifications. They are also required to hold certification for the fire service discipline and level that we need them to provide instruction for. As an example, they are required to hold technician level certification for NFPA 1006 Vehicle and Machinery Rescue if they are going to provide instruction with accredited certification to the NFPA 1006 technician level. Fortunately, many of our Journeyman Firefighters already hold the certification requirements for Fire Service Instructors. Support and approval was obtained to fund the training required so that our instructors would have the certifications needed to deliver the in-house training to meet our organization’s needs.
A commonly used saying with regards to training is that “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is very applicable within the Fire Service on many levels. When skills, knowledge and training are neglected, the ability to recall them when needed most is gone. By developing our instructors and giving them the ability to teach on a regular basis, they keep current with their knowledge and skills while providing quality training to the members of their platoons. With journeymen firefighters who are qualified as instructors as a key component to our training and certification plan, the department now has the ability to deliver the training we need while also reducing training costs significantly.
After further discussions with the Fire Chief and our instructors, we selected a course which would allow us to adapt to the Base’s needs for emergency response. It has been determined that our first in-house course that is completely facilitated by the department and our personnel will be the NFPA 1006 Rescuer Awareness. This course is ideal to get our feet wet. Having members certified in Rescuer Awareness also puts us in a good position for having the prerequisites to be able get our members certified as Confined Space Technicians, Vehicle/Machinery Technicians and Rope Rescue Technicians. In Alberta we have a reputable fire school that provides high quality training for firefighters. Therefore, two members of our Department were enrolled and attended the fire school in order to obtain NFPA 1006 Rescuer Awareness certification. These two members now have the certifications to provide the department members with the training they need. In Alberta the IFSAC and Proboard accreditation for fire service certifications is held by the Alberta Office of The Fire Commissioner (AOFC). This allows the AOFC to provide for client hosted training for the Rescuer Awareness course and many other fire service courses.
One of the requirements to run the NFPA 1006 Rescuer Awareness was to get our training facility inspected and approved by the Office of the Fire Commissioner. With assistance from Medicine Hat Fire Department’s Chief Training Officer, we were able to complete the site inspection for the OFC. Any course we deliver will require a proctor and an evaluator for the practical skills evaluation and knowledge testing components of each course. We are able to utilize the Base Civilian Training Officer who can assist with the proctoring. For the practical evaluations we have another Canadian Forces Base north of us, CFB Wainwright, with certified fire instructors who have offered their assistance with evaluations when needed. Having a good working relationship with other Fire Departments and military bases allows us to assist each other to meet our training together. In December we will be running our first in- house course through the OFC to certify the members at CFB Suffield Fire Department with the NFPA 1006 Rescuer Awareness.
With a plan in place to obtain certifications in-house, we started to look at other training that could be done in house using our own equipment and utilizing the knowledge of our members in order to further reduce costs. Other opportunities for in-house training include Aircraft Rescue Firefighting recertification and S100-G which is Alberta’s grassland firefighting course. The S100-G course is required for our department as well as the Canadian Range Control Field Operations Section (FOS) who is trained as Wildland firefighters and are responsible for extinguishing hundreds of grassland fires that occur in our military training area throughout the year. BATUS and DRDC also have personnel who require grassland firefighter training due to some of their personnel being assigned grassland firefighting duties. During the BATUS training season from May to October, there are a considerable number of fires caused by training exercises. In Southern Alberta, trees are very scarce and the terrain is quite flat with rolling hills. The grass on the training area usually gets quite thick and can grow up to two feet high before it dries out during the hot summer months. This creates a significant problem when a fire starts in the tall dry grass as all it needs is a little breeze to grow very quickly.
The Canadian Military Range Control FOS personnel are on duty 24/7 to combat grassland fires when required. Due to our military training area being 1,588 square kilometers in size, BATUS personnel are often required to assist with combating fires until FOS arrives on scene. When these fires threaten infrastructure or are beyond the capability of FOS to control with their resources, Fire Services are dispatched to assist. Some Fire Services personnel are trained to instruct the S100-G course. We have delivered this course too more than 70 BATUS, FOS and DRDC personnel resulting in a cost saving of approximately $70,000 this fiscal year when compared to the cost of the wildland firefighting course that instructors previously had to be contracted to instruct on our base.
CFB Suffield Fire Services personnel are all qualified to NFPA 1003 Airport Firefighter Professional Qualifications. BATUS has several types of helicopters they use for training here including Gazelles and Wildcats. At one time large fixed wing aircraft used to land at our airfield, but the runway is no longer used for this purpose. It is primarily used for helicopter operations and has been used several times for emergency landings when privately owned aircraft have experienced an inflight emergency. Because of the requirement to provide Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) services to support flight operations, we also have to re-certify our personnel annual to STANAG 7145 Minimum Core Competency Levels and Proficiency of Skills for NATO Fire Fighters.
Since we are part of the National Defence Fire Service, we have the opportunity to send our Firefighters to the Canadian Forces Fire and CBRN Academy (CFFCA) at CFB Borden in Ontario Canada. CFFCA has a first class training facility that trains both Canadian Forces Firefighters (Military) and Civilian Firefighters that provide support to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Training is conducted in accordance with NFPA standards for a wide variety of fire service disciplines. We often send personnel to the CFFCA for training, and the academy has the ability to recertify our members for ARFF. This option has both pros and cons. Although would be getting great training with exceptional training props, it is very costly to send all of our personnel across Canada for a couple of days for the recertification course. If you are not familiar with Canada, CFB Suffield Alberta to the CFFCA at CFB Borden is 3096 km or 1935 Miles. With the cost of hotels, flights, meals and rental car the cost starts to add up. Our training plans were already in motion to develop in house training to obtain certifications so we start running in house annual ARFF re-certification courses as well. By contracting a Mobile Aircraft Fire Trainer (MAFT) through MAFT Canada near Edmonton we were able to complete the required training for all of our personnel. This allowed us to use our own vehicles and equipment and standard operating procedures to do a gap analysis. This will allow us to determine if our procedures are up to the standard for Aircraft Firefighting while providing significant cost savings by reducing annual recertification costs by approximately $50,000. This allows us to better utilise training funds for other mandated certifications. On Oct 12th of this year we successfully completed our first in house recertification for all of our members and are now compliant for another year.
This journey has been a challenging one as we were faced with resistance and negativity due to some of our members being resistant to change. There were times I felt that this dream was turning in to a nightmare, but it is now clear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. After educating the members about the benefits of having in house certification courses we were able to get them on board. We now have subject matter experts on each platoon who are qualified in a variety of fire service disciplines and we are already beginning to see significant cost savings. We are also working to provide opportunities for local fire departments that we have mutual aid agreements to come and train with us to improve our ability to work effectively when we respond to emergency incidents together.
All the hard work, dedication and ambition from our members as well as the support from CFB Suffield and BATUS will ensure our training program meets the requirements for fire fighter certification while reducing the cost significantly.
For more information, go to www.army-armee.forces.gc.ca/en/cfb-suffield/index.page