Sept. 4, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - I first heard the unofficial mantra of the United States Marine Corps in the Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge: the basic message is do not give up; work with what you have and be successful in reaching your goals.
That’s exactly what happened in Grand Falls-Windsor during a recent call. Posts on social media from a house fire showed a portable pump set up beside a backyard swimming pool. The pump was feeding one of the department’s pumpers. That tweet got me thinking about how we, as departments work with what we have to reach our goals. Would this happen in your community? Are you prepared to use on-site water sources? Do you even have a portable pump on any of your responding apparatuses? Portable pumps, alternative water supplies and drop tanks should be part of any rural fire service’s pre-planning for its response areas. Growing up in southern Ontario, there seemed to be a pool in everyone’s backyard except ours! I remember Dad talking about using a resident’s Olympic-sized pool as a water source when the family’s mansion caught fire. Some fire departments do not even have suction hoses on their trucks. What happens during a disaster when your water-treatment plants cannot deliver water through hydrants?
Finding alternative water sources is not where it ends. In your province, are you open to civil suits that that question your training, equipment, and staffing as well as other issues? How do we know where and when to draw the adaptation line? From an OH&S perspective, if a homemade tool breaks or does not perform well, whose fault is it and is your department liable for damages or injuries? John Doe grabs an unmanned hoseline to help at a scene, gets hurt, and ends up suing the municipality, the department and your officers. Will you win? What are the training levels of your firefighters and are there up-to-date training records? Does your province even mandate training like Quebec does with its NFPA 1001 standard? Gone are the days of signing up on training night and driving the truck the next day. Is your fully volunteer fire department roster, which responds to more than a call a day, going to burn out? What happens then? How will you adapt and overcome a staffing shortage?
A know I have asked a lot of questions; the reason for doing so is to make you think. Recruitment and retention, outdated equipment, and volunteer burnout are not new, however, we need to keep talking about these problems. We need to work together to keep our departments focused and to help them survive over the next year, five years, 10 years. Sharing our challenges and, more importantly, the solutions – how we adapt to these issues and overcome them – will help us to ensure that our departments don’t come to a heartbreaking end.
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