“Where’s the partnership?” Wheatland Fire Departments up in arms over proposed new bylaw
The Rural Fire Associations in Wheatland County are concerned about the impact a new proposed bylaw could have on how fire department operations are run.
Wheatland County’s Fire and Emergency Management Coordinator, Judy Unsworth, said, when introducing the bylaw, that this is a step towards uniformity and consistency within the county, something that has not been embraced in the past. Unsworth explained that ultimately the County is responsible for any liability and that District fire chiefs will now have to adhere to certain standards of record keeping.
“You live and die by your records when it comes to incidents of OHS and WCB and also just for your own liability management. The thing is, that even though Wheatland County can contract out the provisions of fire protection services to fire prevention associations, you can’t contract out of your liability,” said Unsworth. “At the end of the day, Wheatland County is still responsible for the type of fire protection service provided in the county no matter who’s providing it.”
Wheatland County Reeve Glenn Koester echoes her opinion.
“This Bylaw gives clear definitions of the role of the municipality in providing fire services,” he stated. “It will also bring Wheatland County more in compliance with what is expected of us, and what we see throughout the province. The way our fire service operates is unique, in that we work with Fire Associations. This will continue to be the case under the updated Bylaw, and we look forward to discussing it further in Council and with all stakeholders.”
30 or more volunteer firefighters attended first reading of the proposed bylaw on Tuesday, April 17 in Strathmore. They showed their discontent for the bylaw, saying there was no
partnership established between the two groups during the revision process.
“We have issues and must ask ourselves ‘ Where is the partnership?’,” said Craig Nelson who represented volunteer firefighters and the Rural Fire Associations in Dalum, Rockyford, Rosebud and Standard during the first reading of the controversial bylaw.
The bylaw was brought to attention after council requested legal counsel to add updated legislative changes in the Workers Compensation Board ( WCB) Act, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, and Municipal Government (MGA) Act. It will also establish and operate fire departments in Wheatland County, authorizing the prevention and control of fires and authorizing the imposition and recovery of related fees, expenses and charges.
Primary changes can be seen by the level of service and authority the Regional Fire Chief and Regional Deputy Fire Chief have.
The Regional Fire Chief is a person who is appointed into the position of Fire and Emergency management Coordinator by the County Manager. This person has many duties like coordinating the administrative, mechanical, support services, and operational functions of the Fire Services Department, directing and monitoring the activities of the Fire Services through effective utilization of human and financial resources, and developing policies, procedures, and plans.
The Deputy Fire Chief has additional responsibilities besides filling in the role for Regional Fire Chief. This includes developing and monitoring member training programs among all fire departments in Wheatland County as well as conducting life safety inspections and monitoring reports to make sure all County requirements are met.
“This is to ensure consistency in fire training and to ensure that every member who’s out there, every volunteer firefighter who is out there, who is responding to calls, has the necessary level of training to allow him or her to be safe and efficient in the delivering of this service,” said Unsworth.
District Chiefs including Chiefs of the Rural Fire Association will be held accountable and take direction from the Regional Fire Chief. They will be asked to keep records, quarterly reports, and monthly member attendance and training records if the bylaw passes.
The Rural Fire Associations has asked to have another meeting with the County to discuss some of the concerns they have.
“We seriously need to get some communication involved in this Bylaw ... otherwise we will be losing many dedicated and trained volunteers that are, at this moment, asking themselves, ‘Why am I being put through all this grief?’,” said Nelson.
The Dalum Fire Department Hall stands tall in the blazing sun on Monday, April 23. Volunteer firefighters across Wheatland County have raised concern of a new bylaw that covers the procedures of all Rural Fire Associations.