By Rob Evans
June 22, 2016, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – It is troubling to me to see reports of fire departments not responding to help those in need. Now, in many circumstances a story involves a lot more than what the headline, lede or an entire story suggests. Armchair fire fighting is not helpful, but what is helpful is asking questions. What would you do in a similar situation? How would you handle scenarios just like ones you read about?
This past week, a house fire in Newfoundland reignited talks about regional fire services in Canada's eastern-most province. The closest department, which does not have an agreement with the town, did not respond and the next-in, about 30 minutes away, was too late to save the home. Now, in rural Canada there are many instances in which houses burn down. Redwood Meadows Emergency Services longest response times can push an hour. I have been on a truck responding while watching a smoke plume grow larger and darker. But, when you know there is a closer fire department, how frustrating that must be. Two years ago another house fire in the same Newfoundland town caused many to ask the same questions they are asking today. The mayor of the town that did not respond said at that time: responding would leave the contractual areas uncovered. It has to be asked, however, at what cost? In other examples, I have read quotes from fire chiefs saying something to the effect of: If there had been someone in there, we would have responded. Well, how do you know until you respond, arrive, assess, attack, search . . .?
It would be interesting to think about how this situation would be dealt with in Alberta. In the province's Municipal Government Act, there is a section that absolves volunteers from any legal action. Municipal Government Act, Revised Statutes of Alberta 2000, Chapter M-26, Section 535(2) states, "Councillors, council committee members, municipal officers and volunteer workers are not liable for loss or damage caused by anything said or done or omitted to be done in good faith in the performance or intended performance of their functions, duties or powers under this Act or any other enactment."
This begs the question: is not responding acting in good faith?
It would be easy to say this is a country-wide problem, and it is, but there is no easy country-wide solution. In Canada, each province and territory handles its municipal fire protection very differently. Drilling down further, each county, municipal district, town, village, and hamlet deals with its protection different than the next. Regional fire services are a great discussion, but lawmakers have to be prepared for answers they will not like from the experts, those of us in the fire service. Fire protection costs money, lots of it, and governments and the residents they represent have to be prepared for those costs being passed to taxpayers. And then there are the fire services, full of pride, yet as much as we talk about the need for change we tend to shy away when it is happening to our own departments. Full disclosure: I am this person.
Can opened, worms everywhere.
Rob Evans is the chief fire officer 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 captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof