Steve Munshaw, Taber’s new emergency services fire chief, started Monday, July 14.
Munshaw is an inter-provincial automotive mechanic by trade with two children ages eight and six. He has been married for 17 years.
“Moving to Taber will give me a chance to spend more time with my family,” he said. “And enjoy my kids while they’re still young.”
He said he and his family have purchased a home in Taber and are looking forward to becoming more involved in the community.
‘We have long-term set goals for our time here for many years to come,” he said. “I think being stable is a very large part of being fire chief.”
Munshaw spent eight years with British Columbia Ambulance Service and recently completed his 20th year in the fire service, beginning as a volunteer firefighter in Kimberley, B.C.
He worked his way up to assistant fire chief responsible for training new recruits through The College of the Rockies in Kimberley.
“We had a cadet program that brought in two classes per year of 12 to 18 students,” he said.
“We administered their training over a six-month program.”
Munshaw said it was this experience with students who would go on to begin their careers across the country which later opened the door for him to teach in the Middle East.
“I taught in the (country) of Qatar working for years,” he said.
“I was contracted to go over there and come back while I was working as assistant fire chief (in Kimberly).”
In 2012, Munshaw moved on to become fire chief of Charlie Lake, B.C., a neighbouring municipality to the much larger city of Fort Saint John.
“You don’t really separate,’ he said. “It’s just sort of a little pod attached to the side (of the larger community).”
From there, Munshaw moved to Crowsnest Pass, where he was the fire chief and manager for protective services.
“That portfolio put me in charge of three fire halls, 55 personnel, a peace officer program with two peace officers, and an Ag field program,” he said.
His time in The Pass was not without controversy, however, as Munshaw’s first week was the same week fire departments in the area made provincial news with the firing of the old chief and subsequent resignation of most of the volunteer fire staff. According to media sources, issues over competency and the safety of a large annual fireworks event eventually lead to a showdown between the council of the day and the local fire departments.
“I walked in the week it started,” Munshaw said. “It was an interesting time.”
In Taber, Munshaw said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen of the fire department in the short time he’s been in town.
“People really have to know that their fire department, as it is today, is a very strong, positive organization,’ he said.
“It’s always focused on the direction of advancement.”
“The community should feel very proud of the department as it is, and whatever it can grow into in a positive direction. This is a very dedicated paid-on-call program.”
Munshaw also identified the unique inter-municipal relationships with fire departments within the M.D. as a source of strength for fire coverage in the area.
“You have a really unique ability here because you have both the M.D. and town working collectively to offer citizens a service that is well supported,” he said.
One area in particular Munshaw would like to see discussed is the issue of whether the town and council feels there is a need for the fire department to grow into a first responder unit with the ability to directly assist on emergency medical calls before ambulances arrive. He added there has already been discussion on the issue.
“One thing I’d like to note to the ratepayers and to council is what that’s going to do, what it means, and give a very good understanding if we have to move in that direction,” he said. “That’s going to have to be an analyzed process.”
“If you’re going to go to 300 calls (as a medical first responder) or 20 calls (as a fire department), there’s going to be a cost factor to the ratepayers,” he said. “That has to really be identified.”
Munshaw went on to say he had witnessed the transition before from traditional fire department duties to first responder duties, and the calls in that case jumped from 40 to 250, something that was unexpected by both the department and the council of the day.
“You have to really analyze it and make sure you’re all on the same page,” he said.
Community interaction is a big part of any successful fire department, according to Munshaw, and to that end he is inviting local residents to get in touch with the fire department if they ever have questions or concerns, and to come down for a visit of the fire hall if they are interested in seeing how the hall runs.
“My office door is always open,” he said. “I’d like to invite the entire community to come down and say, ‘Hi’. If you have any questions, please come to the fire hall. We are there to serve that need.”
“They want a tour, they can phone, and we can book in some tours,” he added. “The fire hall is a most-open place. It should be welcoming and always open.”
Reaching out to the community is one piece to a larger goal of educating the public on fire safety issues.
“Educating the public is number one,” he said, adding he is looking forward to getting a chance to educate children when they are in school.
“When you’re educating the children, the kids take it home,” he said. “If I talk to a student, they are going to take it home to both parents, and their siblings.”
“We need to be out in the public,” he added.
“They need to know who we are and what we do. It should be an okay thing to call us, if they need us. The more often you see us, the more comfortable you are when you need us.”