At a Kimberley City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, Council discussed the 2017 Fire Department Year End Report that was recently updated by Fire Chief, Rick Prasad.
Prasad says that in 2017, the department faced many changes within the organization, including the retirement of long-serving Fire Chief Al Colinson, and a restructure of the full-time staffing.
“The Kimberley Fire Department has a rich history of over 66 years and in many ways is a very traditional department,” said Prasad in the report to Council.
“This is starkly contrasted by our leading edge fire training and accreditation combined with efficient approach to service delivery. It is this mix that makes the Kimberley Fire Department a leader within the fire service.”
Prasad explained that Kimberley’s department focuses its efforts in four main areas; response, training, prevention, and administrative services. He says the challenge for 2018 will be to maintain staffing and training at levels which adequately protect the evolving risk in the community.
In terms of the level of service, Prasad says that with the current training plan, staffing methods, equipment, and water supply, the Fire Department remains in a position to provide full service level fire protection to the city.
With regards to 2017 responses, call volumes saw an increase from the previous two years.
“We responded to higher than average calls for electrical emergencies, motor vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide alarms, and public service calls, while we saw lower than average calls for first aid (City employees only), grass/brush fires, smoke reports and structural fires,” said Prasad.
The total number of calls in 2017 was 220, with the highest amount of calls being for automatic alarms (40), motor vehicle accidents (36), back yard burning (23) and public service calls (21).
Councillor Darryl Oakley asked Chief Prasad if the automatic alarm responses were from specific buildings or businesses, to which Prasad responded explaining that most of them come from various occupants.
“The Pines, schools, businesses, hotels, apartments; those are usually occupant triggered alarms from cooking or some other method,” said Prasad.
Oakley then asked if any of those automatic alarms become a nuisance for the Fire Department.
Prasad replied, “They are, and we are starting to categorize those a little more. The ones that we really get kind-of torn up on are the ones that are due to maintenance, or lack there of, on the alarm system. If we go in and find out that they haven’t had someone in to fix it, and we get called back again, those are repeat issues for us. We are trying not to deter [people] from contacting us though. That’s a big part of what we do as well.
“There’s another category called false alarms, which are alarms that are called in or activated with no fire or problems. We don’t see many of those. These other ones tend to be technology issues or electrical issues.”
Oakley then asked about the cost of continually sending firefighters to these automatic alarms.
Prasad explained that the new, recently approved bylaw allows them to recover some of those costs. He said that the average response, at the average call rank of $20 per hour, tends to result in a cost of $200 to $300.
“Not all of them are attended by a full compliment of firefighters as well; sometimes we get some information as the call comes in, as to what’s happening, so we’ll investigate it to make sure that it’s accurate as far as what we’re getting reported, so we may just have one officer drop in,” Prasad said.
Mayor Don McCormick says that there is quite a “surprising” breadth of responses.
“Of these 220 calls, the vast majority were actual fires and I was quite surprised to see the number of call outs on motor vehicle accidents, where it’s a requirement for the fire department; 36 out of those 220, that’s a lot,” said McCormick.
“It’s been a busy year this year, too,” said Prasad. “We’re a tourist-based community and we have a lot of people that travel around the area for work and other things, so the highways are quite busy, and obviously we’ve had some adverse weather issues this last year.”
McCormick added that the department spends a lot of time on training, which he says is important considering the amount and variation of responses.
A total of 2779 hours, or an average of 87 hours per firefighter, was invested into training in 2017. Training priorities were based on frequency and impact, with most of the training focused on structural firefighting, wild land firefighting, technical rescue and hazardous material responses.
Prasad says that prevention remains to be the preferred method for keeping the community safe.
“Approaching fire safety from both an enforcement and educational perspective has been our focus,” he said. “171 inspections were performed and 62 per cent of those were compliant with no major safety concerns. All school age children from kindergarten to grade five were presented fire safety material and the Fire Department Open House was well attended again.”
In terms of fuel management, Prasad says that the extraordinary weather experienced in 2017 delayed a number of fuels management projects.
“A higher than usual snow pack along with the extended drought periods left us with greatly reduced windows of opportunity for our contractors to work. These UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities)-funded projects have been extended into the next year,” said Prasad.
The department has also applied for two new UBCM funds, along with working on a report that will bring together Kimberley’s past and current strategic wildfire plans, detailing the completed and projected areas. The report is expected to be completed some time in April of this year.