‘Connection key’: Feist

Fire chiefs invited local government staff to their AGM to make sure everyone is on the same page; Midway Administrator Penny Feist reports.

Village of Midway Administrator Penny Feist attended the Zone 4 Fire Chiefs meeting on Jan. 24 in Creston.

This was the first year that municipal staff were invited to send representatives to the monthly meeting.

Feist reported they heard a 3. hour presentation on liability issues by Pam Jefcoat and Sonia Sahota from Valkyrie Law. Topics covered included civil liability, policy versus operational decision making, criminal liability (Bill C45 amendments to the Criminal Code), organizational liability, areas of potential liability exposure, and risk management strategies.

Michael Currie, Director Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS), gave a two-hour presentation and overview of what fire insurance grades are, how the grades are used by insurers, understanding the insurance lingo, how communities benefit from FUS, and how much can property owners save.

They also heard from Robert Krause, forest protection officer from the Nadina Forest District and firefighter for the Burns Lake Rural Fire Protection Area, who presented on wildland fire protection and volunteer retention and recruitment issues.

Regarding retention and recruitment, Feist wrote in her report, “There is a trend in Canada that volunteerism is on a downward spiral, particularly with respect to fire departments. In the past, locals would sign up on a volunteer basis to just fight fires and fire departments were operated more like a community club; but now, they’re finding more and more what they’re actually doing is administrating a department. There’s a lot of paperwork, training and certification requirements that is very time consuming, especially given that most are still in the work force and have families.”

She said the Fire Chiefs Association of BC (FCABC) is developing a program to provide resource materials to address this critical issue at the provincial level, including the lack of province-wide standard. Feist mentioned a 2009 report entitled Public Safety BC, Transforming the Fire/Rescue Service that was authored with a broad base of stakeholder participation.

She said the report was submitted to the provincial government for review and has generated interest from fire service organizations not only in B.C. but across the country as well. Recommendations were made to both the provincial and local governments. Immediate priorities to be addressed by the province are to standardize competencies and training, and to support training, recruitment and retention for volunteer departments.

Immediate priorities to be addressed by local government are to investigate local and regional efficiencies, and to provide administrative and management support to volunteer departments.

Over the long term the FCABC calls upon the provincial government to enforce competency, training and operating standards by initiating the development of a strategy for improving firefighter competencies over an extended transition period, including a deadline for all volunteer firefighters to attain the basic fire fighting certificate, and mandatory fire department registration and certification.

“The requirements for fire departments has escalated to a point where even paid chiefs are finding it hard to keep up with the regulations and requirements.

“Everyone expressed that keeping the CAOs and fire chiefs connected and involved in fire department matters is key in ensuring everyone stays up to date on what is going on, and to ensure there isn’t any expectations nor surprises from either side with respect to resources, training requirements, decisions, etc.,” Feist wrote.

Upon Feist’s recommendation, council voted to support the Zone 4 FCA proposal that future annual FCA Zone 4 meetings are to include their respective local government CAOs as well.