July 4, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - Watching the horrifying circumstances in Elliot Lake, Ont., recently has been an eye-opener for our department, along with the rest of the country. Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) is fortunate enough to be in close proximity to CAN-TF2 in Calgary and, on occasion, has had to use the crews from Calgary’s 9 Station, where the Calgary HUSAR team is based. What a great resource to have so close by when in need.
I started to think about all of the work the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) has done to support Canada’s volunteer firefighters in the quest for tax relief. The successes of the CAFC, led by the largest departments across Canada, came up big for the volunteers with the tax relief introduced this year by the Harper government. I wonder if the volunteers have come up short on support for our big brothers in their journey to secure lasting funds for Canada’s HUSAR teams.
I have never been a big fan of the comparisons between paid and volunteer firefighters when it comes to bread-and-butter operations of fire departments: the job is the same whether a car fire is fought in the parking lot of Square One in Mississauga or Elbow Falls in Kananaskis Country, out where RMES responds. The real differences are the specialty teams of the larger departments. These teams are where the experts reside and it’s not realistic or sustainable for a smaller department to have training in HUSAR, hazardous materials, diving, high angle and others skills, beyond awareness and limited operational capabilities.
Fire chiefs from smaller departments have to stand up and start supporting these teams. MPs need to be told by the hundreds of small departments that supporting these teams isn’t just throwing money at cities; supporting Canada’s HUSAR teams is supporting Canadians, not just Calgarians, Vancouverites or Winnipeggers. Ice storms in Quebec, hurricanes in the Maritimes, tornadoes in Saskatchewan, earthquakes in British Columbia or flooding in Manitoba – all disasters that can result in calls to these resources for help. Sadly, for whatever reasons, teams have been unable to deploy effectively on a national level. Again, do the smaller departments have to share in the blame for this? Could we have done more to support these teams?
I never had the chance to attend the Canadian Emergency Preparedness College in Ottawa. Timing is everything. I had hoped to take advantage of that opportunity when I became fire chief. Our business is very dynamic by nature and everyone should be in an active pursuit for more knowledge. Training doesn’t just reach an acceptable level and come to a stop. If more chiefs had been able to take advantage of the college would the government have witnessed the continued need for funding the college?
In the past, I’ve written about chiefs from smaller departments joining the CAFC. Better late than never. The Canadian fire service is stronger now than it has ever been. Across the country we need to stand up as one strong voice and tell Ottawa that the cuts to the CEPC and JEPP program are unacceptable.
Rob Evans is the fire chief for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a firefighter/EMT with RMES, and three children.