Back on track with training
Spaniard’s Bay fire department looks to catch up as deadline looms
The Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department appears to be moving forward with efforts to bring the training of its members in line with standards set by the provincial government that all fire departments must comply with by the beginning of August.
Eight members of the fire department, including Fire Chief Victor Hiscock, were on hand for a two-day training session hosted by the Cavendish volunteer fire department March 26-27 (see related story on B1). Excluding members of the host brigade, the Spaniard’s Bay group was the second-largest contingent at the training session.
The emphasize on training comes after members of the town council raised concerns late last year about the brigade’s level of preparedness. The brigade was also in the spotlight last week after an article in the March 29 edition of The Compass, headlined “Friction in the fire brigade,” reported on the dismissal and subsequent reinstatement of Brenda Seymour.
A new set of minimum standards came into effect on Aug. 1, 2009, outlining the minimum training standards necessary for firefighters in order to safely function in an emergency situation.
All firefighters in the province must have the necessary training to comply with the standards by Aug. 1, 2011. Additionally, all firefighters that joined a local department after Aug. 1, 2009 had to comply with minimum standards within six months of their start date.
Under that legislation, the new firefighters are also prohibited from attending an emergency scene before reaching the Orientation Level. Brenda Seymour, who is also a town councillor in Spaniard’s Bay, said the department has not followed this directive, as new firefighters without the required training have attended emergency scenes.
Seymour presented concerns to council in a privileged meeting on May 3, 2010, outlining concerns regarding the operations of the department. The document she brought to the meeting is included as an appendix item in the study on her dismissal and suspension from the fire department last year. She was reinstated in January based on the study’s findings.
In the document, Seymour wrote that information booklets on minimum standard training from the Fire Commissioner’s Office arrived at the town hall prior to Aug. 1, 2009. At a meeting later that year, she wrote that some members asked for the booklets, to which the chief respond- ed that the “ books would be distributed when he was ready and that there was no point in giving them out if he was not prepared to go over it yet.”
As of the May 3 meeting, the booklets had yet to be distributed or discussed at a membership meeting of the fire department, according to Seymour.
Chief Hiscock was contacted by The Compass last week, but declined an interview. But in an interview late last year, he said the department holds weekly in-house training sessions on Thursdays. He said the availability of members to take training courses in the summer was reduced because of work commitments.
In her document from the May 3 council meeting, Seymour claims that the captain and both lieutenants on the department had limited training themselves, making it difficult to efficiently train others.
“ It is questionable as to whether they are qualified to hold the positions,” she wrote.
Funding could be withheld
In an e-mail to The Compass, Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien said the effectiveness of inhouse training depends on the level of training and the capacity of the inhouse instructors, as well as the level of service demanded by the municipal council.
“ For example, a fire department like Grand Falls-Windsor has 25-30 firefighters certified to all levels of national standards,” wrote the minister. “A smaller fire department who may not have participated in training or have the same capacity to administer a strong training program would not have the same capabilities to provide all required training in-house.”
To help along the process, O’Brien said the province has held Fire and Emergency Services Training School twice annually in regional locations.
“ The safety of firefighters and the communities they protect is of the utmost importance to the provincial government. Fire departments are a municipal responsibility and it is for councils and committees to ensure compliance in the best interest of the service,” O’Brien explained.
In recent years, the provincial government has distributed millions of dollars to fire departments across the province to help meet capital needs. While O’Brien said there is no direct consequence for non-compliance with minimum standards, it can affect the “ likelihood of their department to receive funding under the provincial program.”
Spaniard’s Bay Mayor John Drover did not respond to several phone messages from The Compass last week.
Speaking after the March 21 council meeting, he said the department and representatives of council have been involved in meetings, looking at how the fire department can be improved.
“ The thing about it today is that liability is such a big issue,” he said at the time. “ We want to work in conjunction with the fire department and do our best to serve the town.”
The mayor was confident that matters with the department were moving forward in a positive manner.
“ We ran into a few problems, but things are coming together, and I think we’re on the right track with it now. We’re meeting with the fire department to make sure we let them know what’s going on and they let us know what’s going on. When you have both parties working together, things can only get better.”
The Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department participated in a recent defensive firefighting training session in Cavendish. The department, like all others in the province, must be compliant with new minimum standards regulations by Aug. 1.