It’s been a year of transition and moving forward for the Ponoka Fire Department.
With his first year as fire chief having been marked last month, Jamie Wilkinson has seen a lot of change on the fire service landscape all the while attempting to keep the department on course.
As has been well documented, fire service responses were split at the end of April between the Town of Ponoka and Ponoka County, leaving the Ponoka Fire Department now only responsible for anything inside the town limits as well as the airport.
Regardless of the situation, Wilkinson has continued to embark on a program that puts the focus on training and having the department involved in the community, while also providing protection to the residents.
“(Since the end of April), the department has responded to 38 emergency calls with 10 of those being motor vehicle collisions,” Wilkinson said in an interview held last week. The other 28 involved a wide range of incidents including assisting other agencies such as EMS and RCMP as well as alarm calls.
In addition, the department welcomed a new fire truck – Engine 16 – that provides first response to fires and motor vehicle collisions, a piece of equipment that also fell in under budget.
For a community the size of Ponoka, that level of call volume isn’t unexpected, but it also means that maintaining the skills of the firefighters is important so they are ready for whatever might be thrown their direction at a scene.
“We recently had seven firefighters achieve their Level One 1001 NFPA firefighter certification, with one waiting to get his testing, ” he said, adding the department next month will begin the Level Two certification process for those members that need it.
Once that is completed, along with courses on hazardous materials awareness and operations, those that pass the testing will have the same qualifications as those on full-time fire departments.
“We also have five instructors on the department, and soon hope to have three of those with level two certification, which will enable us to both teach and proctor (monitor exams) in-house,” Wilkinson stated.
In addition, the department also has some emergency management training planned that will assist the fire department’s officers in developing and implementing strategies to help them gain more experience.
What that translates into is lower costs for the department, while providing the best possible training opportunities for the firefighters.
Another thing that Wilkinson is adamant about is their involvement as a part of the community, something he has advocated in his previous fire chief positions in the Crowsnest Pass and northern British Columbia.
“Having more of a presence in the community will help not only develop good relationships with the residents, but shows that the firefighters are out there doing more good things than just helping protect the community,” he stated, something that was demonstrated by the work done by the crews on the job during the Ponoka Stampede.
“Being out there as much as possible also helps build on the positives of seeing the fire department whether its through prevention – such the 19 fire inspections that have been done this year – or in educating the public about fire safety.”