Codes and standards
Firelines: February 2015
By Dave Balding
By Dave Balding
British Columbia recently took a bold and, I believe, positive step by moving away from the familiar NFPA 1001 training standard for structural firefighters in favour of a new tiered model.
The Fire Service Minimum Training Standards, or Playbook, as it is known, continues to reference NFPA-based competencies, however, its key component is the identification of three levels of fire protection that a community’s local government, or authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), can choose to deliver.
Factors such as the availability of resources, member availability, fiscal realities, ability to provide the requisite training, and community risks should, in collaboration with fire department leadership, inform this decision.
The most basic of the three service levels is exterior operations only. Interior operations, the second level, is oriented toward simple structures such as single-family detached homes.
The third level, full-service operations, includes all competencies outlined in NFPA 1001 required to deliver a complete spectrum of fire services.
Once an AHJ determines the level of service, the fire department will then be positioned to implement policies, operating guidelines and a training regime around the adopted level of fire protection.
Other topics addressed in the Playbook include requirements for fire-ground leadership positions, and firefighter instruction and evaluation.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner worked consultatively with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC, the BC Fire Training Officers’ Association and three British Columbia fire training institutions to create the new standard. The NFPA 1001 requirement that was adopted in 2003 applied to both career and volunteer firefighters – as it should. After all, as I recently read, there is no such thing as a volunteer fire. The difficulty with the previous standard was that fire departments in smaller communities were challenged to meet it; consequently, many departments were operating out of compliance with the regulation.
Today’s fire service is subject to more new regulations and higher benchmarks than ever before. The results are, without question, greater consistency in how we practice our craft, better-trained firefighters, safer equipment and more effective procedures. Is there a downside? I would say yes – perhaps. Standards, regulations, policies or guidelines that are implemented without consultation or occasional review may be out of touch, or departments may find it prohibitively difficult to comply with them. I am by no means suggesting we should revert to the bad old days when if you were able to fog up a mirror you were handed a pager and told to jump on the tailboard, but I believe standards must also be realistic and achievable.
British Columbia’s previous training standard is one example – there are others. Let’s take a look at establishing a regular system of fire inspections in a municipality. The typical annual inspection of most public occupancies is becoming increasingly onerous to many communities that endure financial cuts. Creative thinkers in the fire-prevention world (some of the most important work we do) have proposed alternative models based on history of compliance coupled with risk category to reduce the frequency of inspections while maintaining due diligence for the municipality.
Driving fire apparatuses is also finally getting the attention it deserves. What are the prerequisites for your members to drive your trucks? Are they based on NFPA 1002? Do you have a graduated program? Many departments now require an annual drivers’ abstract to ensure their members’ suitability to continue operating their apparatuses. Do you have an operating guideline that describes what type and how many infractions on a drivers’ record are acceptable?
I realize the foregoing two examples are typically locally driven, but they are standards, or regulations of some type. They must work for your organization in your community or region. We need to occasionally evolve our standards – in consultation with affected parties – and adhere to them, whether national, provincial or local, to hold us to the highest level of performance possible. We owe that to the public we serve, to our families, colleagues and ourselves.
Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief and emergency co-ordinator for the Village of Fraser Lake in British Columbia’s Central Interior. Contact Dave at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @FraserLakeFire