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They want a home of their own - to burn

Training exercises for Port Coquitlam firefighters could get a lot more intense if the city is able to come up with the money necessary to buy a live fire burn building.

Training exercises for Port Coquitlam firefighters could get a lot more intense if the city is able to come up with the money necessary to buy a live fire burn building.

The proposed three-storey structure would give emergency crews real-world firefighting experience in a controlled - but hot and smoky - environment, enhancing their training in dealing with room and content fires, said deputy chief Alan Nicholson.

In most fires, PoCo crews are able to get on the scene quickly and can generally confine a blaze to one room, he said. That means training in entering a structure is important, something a live burn building could go a long way toward improving, he added.

"For the types of fires we fight, something like this is ideal," he said. "These are the kinds of fires we can practice on."

Homes in Port Coquitlam have also changed, Nicholson said. In the 1950s, the typical residence was about 1,200 square feet and spaced apart from neighbouring buildings. Today, it is not uncommon for fire crews to attend calls at homes with between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet, he said.

Currently, live fire training takes place in neighbouring municipalities, such as Maple Ridge, where the Justice Institute has a facility, or Vancouver, where there is another live burn building.

But taking four people out of the rotation for a training exercise can be costly for the department, which has to fill the staffing gaps with overtime.

While the PoCo building would be used for live-fire exercises, a report from Nicholson to the city outlined several others uses for the structure. Confined-space training, technical rope rescues, search technique training and ladder operations could all be conducted from the building, as could responses to simulated earthquake damage.

"[A live fire building] would give me greater flexibility," said Capt. Rob Trousdell, who oversees training exercises at PoCo Fire and Emergency Services. "It gives me a lot more options."

But while the structure would improve the fire department's training regimen, council must consider the cost in a larger budgetary context, said Coun. Mike Forrest, who sits on the city's community safety committee.

The building and the concrete castings would cost the city $145,300, a sum council will have to consider as it enters it budget consultations.

Forrest said he and the committee support the purchase of the building but said it will be up to the full council to decide.

And the business case put forward by the fire department could ease concerns about costs, he added.

In Nicholson's report, the deputy chief outlines how the city could recoup some of its costs by renting out the structure to neighbouring fire departments. The funds generated would be enough to cover some minor annual maintenance costs and could even pay for the building in 10 to 12 years, he said.

"It sounds like a reasonable deal from what I can see," Forrest said. "What it was missing before was a business case. I think they have some of that in the report now, which bodes well."

The report will go to the finance and intergovernmental affairs committee in the next few weeks. If the committee supports the report, it will go to the full council for a final decision.

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