Students chip in to help LaSalle Fire Services

By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the LaSalle Post on May 26, 2017.

Photo: Pictured, from left, are Capt. Chad Thibert, Jarrod Spencer, Ashley Ritzer, Jeremy Ames, Devon Hesketh, Joseph Soccini, Mark Dunseith, teacher Tim Smyth, Sophia Laporte, Thomas Vachon, Joe Alb, Stefan Malic, Steven Ward, Colin Michon, Megan Morency, Craig Baggio, and Sam Hill.  DEVAN MIGHTON/LASALLE POST

(LASALLE, ON) – LaSalle Fire Services’ training officer Captain Chad Thibert visited the students of Tim Smyth’s construction and technological design classes at Sandwich Secondary School to accept a pair of ‘doll houses’ built by the students to train local firefighters.

“We reached out … because we were aware they have a construction class with equipment to handle the project,” said Thibert.

“[Tim] also thought it would be a great opportunity for the technological design students to follow a blueprint design and see the finished product.”

Smyth, a skilled tradesman who was trained as an industrial woodworker and cabinet maker, has been teaching construction and technological design for six years at Sandwich S.S.

“They sent me a set of plans, they dropped off the material, and I have my tech design students and my construction students both working on it,” explained Smyth.

“A lot of my tech design students are in a computer lab all day and … they get to see things that are designed but never necessarily get built, so it’s kinda cool to get some of them in.

“So they got to see a set of blueprints, like something they would have done in Auto Cad, actually get interpreted in a shop and all the layout from the schematics get laid out on the wood.”

The doll houses, which stand four feet tall, may have as many as 25 different students working on them during the course of their construction.

“It took us about one day each and we build two of them,” said Sandwich student Colin Michon.

“It took us about two shop periods, but we basically just made each panel. Groups would make one panel and work on it, then we’d put it all together.”

The houses are constructed out of OSB board, also known as aspenite, a form of particle board used in the building of floors, walls, and roofs.

“It is always a challenge to safely teach how a fire behaves inside a house without actually putting people inside,” said Thibert, a firefighting veteran of 10 years.

He added, that with the construction of the doll houses, “for under $20, we can teach lessons that can prove to be invaluable.”

Ashley Ritzer, another student in Mr. Smyth’s class, stated that the doll houses are used to “show how flames are created in a house.”

“The doll houses are burned in a controlled environment where we can safely teach firefighters and officers fire behaviour with a practical hands-on approach,” stated Thibert.

“We look at how smoke and fire moves through a building depending on which windows and doors may be open, what the different colours of smoke can tell you in relation to what is burning inside, for how long and where the fire wants to go.

“We can demonstrate how controlling those openings can direct the path of the smoke and fire.”

For the students, there were mixed feelings about knowing that their hard work would eventually go up in smoke.

“In one regard, yes, we’re doing something for the community,” said Smyth. “It’s a volunteer thing, it’s going for a real valid effort for training firefighters, but I’m trying to get [the students] to make this as good as we can do – let’s make a high-quality product, but they’re saying … ‘Why does it have to be perfect, sir? They’re gonna set it on fire!’

“All-in-all, they did a very nice job on it.”

The doll houses were assembled with a pneumatic nail-gun, one of the many features of Sandwich’s shop classes.

“I also run a Specialist High Skills Major program,” said Smyth.

“We’ve tapped into a lot of federal funding, it’s brought a lot of money into the program and a lot of training for the students – so we have a very, very functionable, well-equipped shop.”

According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, the Specialist High Skills Major program allows Grade 11 and 12 students heading towards apprenticeships, university degrees, college diplomas, or into the workplace to “focus on a career path that matches their skills” as they finish up their high school diploma.

With two houses built, Smyth’s construction class is working on completing one more for this week.

In total, Smyth’s class has been asked to build as many as six when all is said and done.

But for the kids, the project is all about learning while they work and contributing to their town.

As Ashley Ritzer put it, building the doll houses “taught me how to work with other people and to be able to do something good for the community.”

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