How a regional fire service can work to benefit residents

How could regional fire services look in the town and county of Ponoka? Ponoka News spoke with one area where it has worked well for years.

There are three municipalities in Alberta that do not have a regional fire service while the rest are working under some type of regional deal that brings firefighters and equipment under one umbrella.

Ponoka News spoke with one such regional service to get an idea of how that could look and affect residents in the town and county of Ponoka.

David Zayonce, regional fire services co-ordinator for Camrose County spoke candidly about how operations have worked since they regionalized several years ago.

Zayonce speaks with more than 25 years of experience of firefighting as well being a fire chief. He also helped build the Beaver Emergency Services Commission (BESC), an entity encompassing a number of municipalities in Beaver County.

Operations and governance

As the regional fire services co-ordinator, Zayonce answers to a steering committee. He likens his role to the “Radar Riley” of the region and has eight fire departments that he assists.

At times, Zayonce will advocate for capital needs for departments and at others he investigates structure fires or bringing standard operating procedures suitable for a specific department.

Zayonce said there was some trepidation that municipalities would not be able to work together, however, newer lines of communication were developed that most critics thought was impossible. Sincerity and a desire to make it work helped with planning.

“They (planners) can sit there and put every template they want down . . . if they don’t have clear, open, honest lines of communication they might as well just shred all the paper they just wasted,” explained Zayonce.

Formalizing the agreement through a bylaw ensured the county had guidelines to follows.

“I’m kind of standing there helping these guys and girls make it happen,” he added.

Zayonce referred to BESC, the setup of which was created in such a way that there were equal voting opportunities.

For the town and county of Ponoka, one issue appears to be how a regional service would look. Although Zayonce was not commenting on Ponoka’s situation, he said governance in the commission was created so that board members cannot gang up on others.

The commission’s board is made up of four urban representatives and three county representatives but quorum can only be made if there are two county and two urban representatives to pass a vote.

Zayonce says that eliminated any opportunities for political dominance.

“We built a multi-million dollar non-profit corporation from the ground up,” said Zayonce of the commission, which has its own structure in the Municipal Government Act.

He said in some areas where a new regional fire services program was being developed a mediator was brought in to help municipalities without harmonious relations come to a working agreement.

Pooling resources

Regionalizing fire services does another thing: it pools finances and resources under one roof.

Zayonce said with more than one municipality under one regional service, there is also more opportunity for large capital expenses that benefit all the fire halls. “Pulling our allowance together, we can buy double the candy,” he joked.

The fire department must operate without interference

When asked about the role of a council related to fire services, Zayonce, who is also the mayor of Viking, suggested councils should support their fire department.

“It’s important to let the fire department drive the department . . . That’s why they’re there. That’s why they train. That’s why the chief is the chief,” stated Zayonce.

“If we created a political upheaval that compromised our services being provided to the people that need it, I couldn’t live with myself. I’d resign . . . that defeats the purpose of why I’m here,” he said.

Bringing in a mediator was suggested at the Ponoka town and county public meeting held Sept. 14 although that was declined.