OTTER POINT -- When you’re a firefighter, there’s only so much you learn in a classroom. That’s why firefighters from Saanich and Central Saanich were at the Otter Point Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday to get some hands on training in a unique facility.

The two-storey structure made from shipping containers is the perfect set up for live firefighting training. It’s full of small rooms, a staircase and filled with burning wood pallets. 

“What we’re teaching today is to actually show them that we have to be fast,” said Saanich firefighter Craig Ford. “We have to be efficient and we have to be safe.”

The training facility allows for realtime, practical firefighting training, in a safe and controlled environment. There are only three like it on Vancouver Island, one in Otter Point, one in Nanaimo and one in Comox. 

The reason Saanich has decided to "go to school" with Central Saanich is for synergy purposes.

When a mutual-aid call comes in, there can be many different departments working together on one fire. When emergencies start, it’s important that everyone is speaking the same language. 

“If something was to go wrong we know that we’re on the same page when we are trying to rescue people, our own people and the public,” said Lieut.-Insp. Sean Lillis of the Saanich Fire Department. 

Being inside a building during a live fire exercise is eye-opening.

Visibility is next to nothing, while things can become very disorienting for first responders who are trying to locate the source of a fire. Training inside facilities like the one at Otter Point offers practical experience like that can save lives when a real call comes in. 

“This is as close to real as we can get it,” said Ian Swain, training officer with the Saanich Fire Department. “It’s invaluable.”