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Fire service report recommends consideration of full time deputy chief

A review of the Ponoka Fire Department recommends the town and county of Ponoka work a new services agreement.

The first recommendation from a recent fire services review of the Ponoka Fire Department (PFD) shows the need for the town and county of Ponoka to reassess their Fire Services Agreement.

The review, recently released at the request of town council, was conducted by Firestorm Consulting Group and provides a total of 43 recommendations in the 59-page document.

The two municipalities have already met to reevaluate the agreement and it is believed they are in ongoing negotiations.

Consultants added that the agreement has been mutually beneficial for the years it was active. “The agreement has allowed the opportunity for shared equipment and infrastructure,” states the report in the executive summary.

One area the report suggests the town should consider is the development of a deputy fire chief position.

“We definitely need one. For the size of our community, we have a relatively large call volume,” said Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson.

“Once we bring on a full time deputy, we can start a proactive measurement for inspections and fire prevention,” he added.

The City of Lacombe takes in approximately 225 calls for service a year and has just appointed a new deputy fire chief position as well.

Call volumes

The report shows that the PFD responds to approximately 200 — just 25 less than Lacombe’s — incidents per year and serves more than 15,000 residents.

Of those 200 calls, about one third are in town boundaries, another third in the county and the last in order are emergency incidents, mainly in the Alberta Transportation corridor.

With a large number of calls, Wilkinson suggests the deputy chief position will be a benefit to the department, which will then be able to create standard operating procedures, one of the recommendations made in the report.

Other fire departments in neighbouring communities are starting to create a deputy fire chief position to help deal with daily operations of the respective departments, he added. “If you do research on communities our size, they either have two full time personnel, some actually have three full time personnel,” said Wilkinson.

Firefighter safety

According to fire chief, several recommendations in the report are already being implemented such as buying new fire safety equipment and testing and certifying their breathing apparatus.

Breathing apparatus has a life of approximately 15 years and the turnout gear — bunker gear — should be changed every 10 years. The Firestorm report also recommends breathing masks be fitted to the specific firefighter.

Along with fire safety, mental health is an important consideration.

The report recommended more members, specifically those who are not chief officers, undertake training in Critical Incident Management Programs (CISM).

“Success of a CISM program hinges on the confidentiality of the individual in addition to the members taking part in these sessions feeling that they can speak openly,” states the report.

One observation in the report is that the Town of Ponoka does not have plans for replacement of bunker gear and other tools and equipment. It recommends a respective budget line be added during town’s deliberations.

Status of the ladder truck

The older a vehicle gets, the less reliable it will be.

The department’s 1989 Tele-Squirt ladder/pumper truck is being used beyond its life expectancy, stated the report. Wilkinson said firefighters’ safety has to be given consideration with the same standards as Occupational Health and Safety, which has challenged fire departments to have similar standards.

“What we try to shoot for is to keep our frontline engines to a maximum of 15 years and then your second line to a maximum of 20,” explained Wilkinson.

Because of its age, the consultants’ report did not recommend recertification because of the truck’s age, however, Wilkinson said a new truck could cost upwards of $800,000, which was not factored into the 2015 budget.

It appears the vehicle has been well cared for as found by a non-destructive test, which showed minor parts needed to get it up to safety standards. Firestorm report recommends the ladder truck be replaced.

Wilkinson said that the truck has been recertified at a minimal cost, which has helped the PFD buy some time.

Praise for the Fire Brigade

The report praised the Fire Brigade, a non-profit fundraising group comprised of PFD members, for outstanding contribution of time and energy to raise money for needed equipment. Continued support is recommended for the brigade to ensure continued success.

The new rescue truck is an example of that, the report finds, with the brigade, the town and county contributing to its purchase.

One recommendation by the report calls for creation of clear policies outlining the brigade’s role in relation to the fire department. “The document should outline that the Ponoka Fire Brigade Society is a support group for the PFD and does not have operational control,” observed the consultants.

Other areas recommended in the report were to create a policy that provides on-call firefighters with remuneration that is fair and equitable to other departments. “You’re asking them to spend time away from their family,” said Wilkinson.

Another important finding in the document is that its members are unanimous in their pride of the work they do for the community.

“Each member was proud of the department, proud of their service to the community and committed to being the best firefighter that they could be,” states the report from interviews with the PFD members.

“They love what they do,” said Wilkinson.

Ponoka County and the Town of Ponoka have split the operational and capital costs of the PFD.