By Greg Price
The clock has finally ticked down as the Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Service is officially operational as of today after a year worth of bylaws being passed, volunteers recruited and thousands of hours of training logged.
“It’s been a lot of hours put in by everybody. All the volunteers, they started their first course July 20 (2016) and we are pushing over 300 hours for each member in training,” said Joe Bruyere, deputy fire chief for the regional fire service. “There has been great anticipation. I’ve had a countdown clock on the back training screen from 60 days out and you can feel the anticipation.”
The regional fire service currently has 22 fully trained Level 2 NFPA firefighters, including two females, with more volunteers welcome in upcoming months if others decide to take the calling.
“I set the cap at 25, so we are sitting pretty good right now. Of course, if there’s more interest we’ll look at 30, but then you have to speak to council because 30 means we have to up lockers, gear etc. so there’s extra costs involved,” said Bruyere.
While everyone hopes the services of a fire department are never needed, the Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Service has been battle tested as of late, where any nervous anticipation of today’s official roll-out dissipated for a department who knows now they are ready to heed the call. There was a huge fire north of Vauxhall in January. The department also aided with the large industrial fire that destroyed the Flexible Solutions building in Taber in early February.
“We had 24 members from the regional service. Two from Vauxhall with a truck. Two trucks out of Grassy Lake with seven members,” said Bruyere. “Fires are never good and are never something you want to see, but it was good timing for our members to put them to a test to see the training in action. I was pretty confident in our service before that fire, but seeing our crew on the fire, I’m confident we will succeed very well. This proved to me that they are ready.”
There was also a mock vehicle scenario on Feb. 23 that Bruyere tested his crew out on, in which he said they passed with flying colours.
“They thought it was live and there was a patient in the vehicle and it was good. They have come along way in a short amount of time,” said Bruyere. “Doing these little trainings, we are trying to get the jitters out before we go live.”
The Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Service, along with the combined efforts of four other rural departments (Enchant, Hays, Vauxhall, Grassy Lake) cover a combined 427,000 hectares.
The M.D. of Taber officially announced in February 2016 it would be initiating a rural Taber fire service for Division 1 (southwest of Taber), Division 2 (Southeast of Taber), Division 4 (Northeast of Taber) and Division 3 (Grassy Lake and Area) (during daytime hours) beginning today, giving the Town of Taber a one-year notice that its joint agreement would be terminated. Previously, in Grassy Lake, the Grassy Lake department was only available for calls after 5 p.m.
“In a community of 1,000 people, it is absolutely necessary for a local fire department to be able to respond to a fire or emergency call. Having a response 20 to 30 minutes away is no longer acceptable,” said Brian Brewin, reeve for the M.D. of Taber.
Brewin noted various other reasons for the decision including additional support for its hamlet volunteer fire departments and a fire service that is accountable to municipal council, administration and its citizens with procedures and practices that are modified quickly if issues arise. Also, to ensure the equipment and training is orientated towards rural fire services.
Brewin also pointed to cost savings in being fiscally sustainable in the long-term for a fire department.
“As a community, we cannot afford a ‘paid-on-call’ fire service for our rural departments. In order to operate fire services in our rural communities that provide a timely response because of the vast distances involved, the only model that works is a volunteer fire-fighting service which is based locally within the communities and rural areas they serve. Any change to this reality would require permanent and substantial tax increases, and this to us is not an acceptable option,” said Brewin, adding another objective of the initiative was uniform training across the area which includes structural fire fighting, vehicle extrication, wild land/urban interface fire fighting, and hazardous material response. “We wanted to ensure the fire service provides an equal level of service across the municipality. There should be no disparity of service — all citizens should be able to access a fire service which is equally trained, equipped equally well and funded equally, regardless of where they live.”
With an exact date still to be announced, the Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Service is planing an open house for locals.
It is expected within the next year, additional operational capabilities will be developed by the Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Service including: swift/faster water rescue, rope rescue and livestock rescue.
“Everyone pays property taxes and we believe that core services like a fire department should be able to provide an equivalent type of service in all areas of the M.D. of Taber,” said Brewin.