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Volunteer Fire Departments review highlights areas for improvement

The Cariboo Regional District board was presented with a report that reviewed all 14 volunteer fire departments and noted areas for improvement.  

The review identified 93 recommendations covering four major management topics, including governance, compliance, finance, and operations.

Of the 93 recommendations, 36 percent reference governance, 18 percent reference compliance, 12 percent reference finance, and 34 percent reference VFD operations.

Twenty recommendations were identified as an immediate priority that should be completed before July 1, 2021. Thirty-two recommendations were identified as a short-term priority should be completed before July 1, 2022. Thirty recommendations identified as a medium-term priority should be completed before Jan 1, 2024, and 19 recommendations identified as long-term priority will likely take four-plus years to complete.

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Chris Keam, the communications manager with the CRD, said that the areas that need the most attention are issues in administration work.

“It’s the admin stuff. It’s the paperwork that has to be logged through,” he stated. “I bet you could phone any department in B.C., and they would probably say that they have a big inbox.”

The report showed that volunteer fire chiefs are overcome with administrative paperwork that leads to some ignoring the safety playbook, such as documenting training and opting to buy items like water pumper trucks rather than upgrading personal protective equipment putting the regional district at risk for safety liability.

Keam said that administration work has no impact on the fire department’s operational readiness.

“These guys are always ready to go, and they are responding to calls all the time, so clearly in terms of the departments, they are getting the job done, and they are doing a good job of it.”

CRD Chair Margo Wagner said that provincial and federal changes had caused some of the problems.

“The adoption of the Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook in 2015 gave provincial fire departments clear benchmarks for performance, but it also added significant administrative and training requirements on top of emergency response,” noted CRD Chair Margo Wagner.

Keam said that over the next month, the CRD would take a closer look at the review.

“It’s going to require a deeper dive beyond the report, which tells us where the challenges and issues are,” Keam said. “It will be a question of looking at those 93 recommendations, and some of them are nice to have, and some of them are a little bit more critical than others, prioritizing them and then moving forward.”

While the review listed many improvement areas, it also highlighted many strengths within the CRD’s volunteer fire departments.

Response statistics for the region highlight a track record of success. In 2019 regional district volunteers responded to 151 fire calls, 97 motor vehicle incidents, and 344 medical emergencies.

To view the full report, click here

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