Regional training center in works for firefighters, police, medics in Ontario area

Fire Chief Terry Leighton gets ready for a training exercise at the Ontario site. (The Enterprise/LES ZAITZ)

ONTARIO – Terry Leighton’s enthusiasm is apparent as he tours what will become a regional training facility in Ontario for firefighters, police officers and medics.

The Ontario fire chief describes a compound abuzz with trainings and practical exercises.

In classrooms, experts would teach both paid and volunteer firefighters.

In a large multi-bay garage, police could practice active shooter drills.

Outside, fire crews and search-and-rescue teams could practice rescues from a burning building or rappelling down a wall, simulating bringing a victim to safety.

And in the paved lot, firefighters would go through driving drills, tasked with taking their rigs into ever tighter confines.

He describes it all with a clear vision for what’s ahead.

“This will save lives,” Leighton said.

The fire chief got the green light from the Ontario City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 25, to turn the former public works compound into a training camp. The property at 55 N.E. 2nd Ave., tucked alongside railroad tracks, includes three buildings, a water tower, and storage buildings -– all owned by the city.

Converting the buildings won’t take much money, Leighton said. The Ontario Rural Fire District pledged $10,000, and the Ontario Firefighters Association announced it would contribute $6,000. Leighton said a private donor has committed another $5,000.

Leighton has worked on the idea for some time and winning council approval was a big moment. He got permission from Mayor Riley Hill to celebrate at the lectern after the unanimous council vote.

But the purpose is deadly serious.

Leighton said Ontario firefighters now will be able to conduct more realistic training. Currently, much of that is done in the parking lot behind Ontario City Hall –– a far cry from having a building to scale in the practice hunt for fire.

Getting the compound ready won’t take much, according to a report Leighton delivered to the council. He needs just $10,000 to upgrade classrooms and offices with repairs and equipment.

Firefighters practice rappelling from the roof of a structure at the current training site in Ontario. (Ontario Fire Department photo)

The biggest change is years down the road -– adding a fire training tower. This, Leighton explains, would go beneath the water tower that’s decommissioned and now serves as a platform for communication gear. The tower would give firefighters much better training in tackling fires in multi-story buildings.

He noted local hotels and Saint Alphonsus Medical Center are among Ontario’s tallest. Leighton also pointed out that grain silos in the area can be several stories.

The tower will be a costly addition, Leighton knows, and likely is years away. He also wants to build a new compound with movable interior walls, creating new mazes for training so firefighters don’t memorize the layout of an unchanging layout.

Leighton said he would expect area fire agencies and police departments will help with “sweat equity” and possibly paying a fee to use the site.

The central training facility has drawn strong support from the region in recent months.

Vale Mayor Tom Vialpando, a firefighter when he was in the U.S. Air Force, wrote in a support letter that “there is no substitute for real-life training as it is the cornerstone for successful fire service delivery.”

He noted training now in the area is in the classroom “or outside by completing hose laying drills on empty streets and parking lots.”

The board members of the Ontario Rural Fire Protection District wrote, “By providing a safe place for training, the proficiency of our staff will be enhanced, therefor keeping them and our community safe for years to come.”

“A trained firefighter makes for a safe firefighter,” wrote Monty Culbertson in a separate letter as a member of the Ontario rural board. “It is through training that safety becomes second nature to them, thus ensuring that they return home to their families.”

The Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management supported the training facility because it would allow several agencies to train together, providing essential help to the area.

“No one department is capable of handling a large incident, or multiple incidents at once, on their own,” BLM officials wrote.

Fire officials from Weiser and Payette also backed the Ontario center, noting that otherwise fire crews have to travel to Nampa or other cities for some of their training.

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