By: Jessie Archambault

From left, Leigh Lacroix, Mike Poupore, Nick Moren and James Macalan practice with the portable pumps outside P building. The pumps are used in rural areas where fire hydrants aren’t as available to pump water from lakes or rivers. The students have technical labs every Thursday morning.

“The group on the first day is entirely different from the group we see leaving on the last day.”

This is an observation by Jean-Francois Caron, an pre-service firefighter education instructor at Algonquin who is looking at yet another graduating class moving on to the workforce.

His students agree.

“We’re no longer kids when we come here,” said Sandy Mah, a 28-year-old student.

The pre-service firefighter education program revolves around team work, leadership, discipline and safety. The students that started in September are learning the necessary skills to become a firefighter.

The fire department is based on a ranking system where the program coordinator Randy Foster is “chief” and instructor Caron is referred to as “captain.”

Classes are based on a chain of orders principle, said Caron, 34.  Early in the year, the instructors name platoon leaders based on maturity, organization skills, motivation and ability to motivate others. The students are then divided into four platoons.

Alex Morehuse, 20, is one of them. He is the liaison between the captains and his group.

“You need to make sure the students understand what they are doing,” he said.

Morehuse makes sure everything is in order upon arriving in P126, the fire department lab. Before the class starts, they stand in rows for the inspection of their uniforms before practices and drills begin.

“We have to be tough on them, “ said Caron who’s been teaching for the past eight years.

“It’s definitely not a place for fun,” said Mah.

He is part of platoon A which has labs every Thursday morning starting at 8 a.m. The door to P126 opens and the students walk up the stairs to inspect their personal protective equipment or bunkers as they are commonly known.

It’s not all about the T-shirts and the calendars; the program is difficult said Caron, who graduated from the Algonquin program in 2002.

The instructors are also full-time firefighters in Ottawa and want to make sure the students know what they are doing and how to do things before they leave to find employment. They could cross paths at a fire in the city.

“I don’t want them to put my life in danger, or any other firefighter’s life in danger,” said Caron.

Each week has a different exercise. On March 21, the students practiced how to use portable pumps and competed in elaborate drills.

“They’re developing team work,” said Caron.

From the set up to the actual exercises, students do everything together.

“Everybody is like family,” said Mah. “We look out for each other.”

This year, the family is composed of 56 students. Over 400 people apply each year and only 60 start in September. However, the program can’t guarantee jobs after graduation.

“We’re giving them the tools,” said Caron. Then, it’s up to them.

The Ottawa Fire Services hired three Algonquin graduates last year and nine in 2011 according to Marc Messier, public information officer.

“I’d see myself working with most of the students,” said Caron who works at a Centretown fire house.