Skip to content

After heated debate, council pours water on fire training academy

Issue of contentious live fire through straw burning on 1.2 hectare site removed from proposal, but zoning amendment still goes up in flames
Southwest Fire Academy, located at 36 Hazel St. in Waubaushene.

A request by the Southwest Fire Academy of Waubaushene to use a 1.2 hectare portion of 1420 Newton St. for firefighting training purposes was met with contention from local residents and nearby farmers over the past years, when concerns over live fire training involving a sea container and water disposal heated up discussions.

At a recent committee of the whole meeting, members of Tay council received a staff recommendation to approve operation of the academy on the parcel of farmland for three years.

However, the recommendation was narrowly defeated with the issue going no further.

Discussion at the meeting reached elevated temperatures as staff were grilled by concerned councillors, while Coun. Gerard LaChapelle directly countered some of his fellow members.

LaChapelle, who had been involved with fire services for three decades, strongly supported the application for the temporary use bylaw amendment.

As Coun. Paul Raymond asked about alternate locations considered in the staff report, as well as the difference in fire training on a small pond instead of utilizing nearby Georgian Bay, LaChapelle took "offence" to the suggestion.

“We talk about the watering (component), the fire (being) outside and putting that out – but the Township of Tay has thousands of homeowners that have night-time fires. Why aren’t you (Raymond) and all the other councillors concerned about this not being controlled?”

He further commented that he felt it was a case of the town picking on an individual for following burn permit rules like everyone else, saying it was like “playing favourites for residents but picking on an individual that is bringing good training.”

Coun. Sylvia Bumstead, who had expressed opposition prior to serving on the current term of council, also cited opposition from residents through public meeting attendance, letters, and a petition.

LaChapelle challenged her directly by asking: “Our dry hydrant is on there, so are you suggesting that this be removed, too, Coun. Bumstead?” She declined.

Mayor Ted Walker calmed the meeting down with pointed questions of staff, one of which addressed the report which noted that the land was currently not in use for farming, and another that caught the issue of live fire being removed from the proposal to the effect of zero smoke on area residents.

As the request had been removed, planning and development services director Todd Weatherell told committee members: “there won’t be any water suppression or foam suppression on the fire, so there won’t be any smoke being created. So it is now more for water rescue such as hose training and things like that.”

Weatherell also said that the Southwest Fire Academy was “still working with MECP (Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks) to come up with a concept that will contain the water runoffs so that it doesn’t get into the ponds.”

Additionally, Walker expressed confusion toward residents with objections, particularly those who had ever applied for land severances on farmland to build houses or who supported the decision to build Old Fort Fire Hall at its location. 

When the vote was taken, a majority of the committee of the whole members declined the application and it was defeated.

The matter will be brought to an upcoming council meeting where decisions of the committee of the whole are formally ratified.

The report for a temporary use bylaw amendment on 1420 Newton St., including public concerns with responses, can be found in the committee of the whole agenda on the Tay Township website.

Tay council meets for committee of the whole meetings every second Wednesday of the month, and regular council meetings every fourth Wednesday of the month. Archives and livestreams of council meetings are available through the Tay Township YouTube channel.

Reader Feedback

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
Read more