I want to start by saying that I am by no means an Emergency Management professional or expert. I am however very fortunate to work with a team of experts with whom I learn daily about Emergency Management in the province of Alberta. I work closely with these gentlemen on projects and support them where I can in their assessments and development of Emergency Management plans and strategies.
TSI’s team of experts are invited into small municipalities throughout Alberta to provide an assessment or in the development of Fire Services and Emergency and Disaster Management plans, strategies and operations. These often include a full review of the Fire Department both in operation and in governance. In our reviews, there are two main things that stand out the most for me and scare me; Training and service levels.
First lets talk Service Levels. I would challenge everyone reading this article, particularly if you live outside of a big centre like Calgary or Edmonton, to see what level of service your municipality has committed to providing you as a resident in the area of Fire Response. Look for a Fire Service bylaw that outlines the level of service. Most people believe their fire department is capable of “saving” them, their family and their property in all situations. We watch shows like “Chicago Fire” and believe if our family is ever in trouble, this is the service we will receive. This is not the case, nor even close. In fact, many small municipalities don’t have a Fire Service bylaw stating their service level, so you would be hard pressed to find this answer. Do you know whether your fire department is capable of doing building entry? Meaning, can they come into your burning structure to save you or your loved ones? Are they trained to do water rescue or vehicle extrication? All things we believe should be available when and if we need it. Ask these questions of your department, but more importantly of your elected officials. It is the responsibility of your elected officials to set the service level of the fire department and in turn provide them the budget to train their fire fighters to this level of service. Challenge your elected officials to both understand and support your fire services, and understand the service level provided to you as a resident or business.
Next, and in direct relation to service levels is training. It scares me to see how many fire departments are providing a service they are not properly trained to provide. While I understand it is often difficult for small municipalities to get volunteer fire fighters and then to ask those people to take time out of their “day jobs” to go to training is also difficult. So our advice is; support them. Compensate them for training days. Compensate local employers for their role in allowing their employees time for training and time for fire calls. This is an essential service to the community, but not a requirement for your local businesses to put their livelihood on hold for your volunteers to be trained and to respond. So compensate, even if it is in the form of a tax break or other incentive. This is also a great way to recruit volunteers. It is equally important for volunteer fire fighters or even career fire fighters to understand their responsibility and their limits on the job. Fire fighters tend to have an innate need to rescue, regardless of whether they are properly trained to do so. This could mean diving into icy cold waters to save someone drowning, even though they do not have any water rescue training. Sounds innocent and admirable. However, it puts both the fire fighter and the municipality at significant risk if they operate outside the set service level of the municipality and their individual training. Ensure you as a fire fighter, or you as an administrator or elected official understand the limits and train to the service level identified.
TSI values the opportunity to assist municipalities both in Alberta and throughout Canada in their Fire Service reviews, plans and strategies. For further information on any of the above, we would be happy to assist…an expert can assist. I just like to rant and hand it off to our experts. 🙂
Transitional Solutions Inc. (TSI) is a consulting firm dedicated to assisting municipalities in transition. With the organization’s more than 10 years of serving municipalities, combined with its team of senior-level consultants who have extensive experience in administration, governance, human resources, emergency management, engagement, and more, TSI has established themselves as a leader in working with municipalities of all sizes.