Just when Brian Moore thought the Kelowna Fire Museum would never be built, an idea came to him like a bolt of lightning.
“It was 3 a.m. and I was thinking about it wondering what to do, and then I realized—the electrical students at Okanagan College.”
Moore, who works full-time as a Kelowna firefighter, is the executive director of the Friends of the Fire Museum Society, the new society that took over the old Boyd’s Autobody building at the corner of Leon and Pandosy.
“The project has basically been stalled for the last year or so because we couldn’t find any electricians with permits who could do the commercial work.”
Stoked with excitement at the possibility, Moore dialled up Okanagan College to see if they could help.
Jim Gamble, chair of the electrical trades department, told him it was just the kind of community partnership the college longs for.
“Whenever we can create partnerships like this, we grab it. The challenge for us was to make sure we had all the right approvals so we could go ahead,” Gamble said.
Gamble checked with his program advisory committee, made up of local industry and trade representatives, and Keith Wemp owner of Kilo-Womp Electric, quickly stepped forward.
“He made all the necessary arrangements through the local BCSA electrical inspection authority, so the college could take this on,” Gamble said.
Three weeks later, and the once-abandoned job site is now crawling with 28 eager students.
“It’s a fantastic experience,” said Okanagan College instructor Tom Stapleton, who is supervising the students along with fellow instructor Gary Walters.
“This site was built in the 1940s so it has everything really—old wiring, new wiring, connections that weren’t done correctly even from the start. And then there’s all the computer and telephone wiring—that’s a bit of a mess —it’s all just running all over the place.”
Over the course of two full weeks, a rotation of students are coming in, pulling out the old wires, and installing new ones —a job that would otherwise cost the young society a minimum $15,000 in labour.
“This is awesome,” said Brody Raffan, a 22-year-old student who enrolled in the program in March.
“We had to run wires on top of the roof on scaffolding, and it was pretty high up there. I was a little scared of the height at first, but you get used to it.”
It’s that kind of hands-on experience that classrooms have a tough time replicating, and really aids students in deciding whether a career is for them, says Stapleton.
“It’s absolutely the best way we could teach them. It’s a total win/win situation.”
For Moore, it couldn’t be better.
“I need to thank every one of them,” Moore said.
“They arrived just at our darkest moment. We were stalled at the framing and without the electrical our entire project would be jeopardized.
“The whole thing was keeping me up at night, but I’m an eternal optimist and I knew something would happen.”
The irony for Moore is that this marks the second time in a matter of months that Okanagan College has assisted the society.
Earlier in the spring, three students from the college’s business administration program wrote up a strategic plan and a feasibility study to apply a new model of non-profit already in use in Europe.
Called a “community interest company,” the model allows non-profits to essentially turn a profit, while maintaining their social responsibility.
“It’s pretty cool to see this happening,” he said.
“You always hear about people being so darn selfish, but you need to remind people that that is not the case—they just don’t hear about it.”
Gamble says projects like this help students understand the relevance of their career in more ways than one, and he’s open to hearing from other community groups interested in helping students deepen their skills.