Burns Lake may be first to comply

The Village of Burns Lake has taken the first step toward complying with B.C.’s new minimum training standards for firefighters.

The Village of Burns Lake has taken the first step toward complying with B.C.’s new minimum training standards for firefighters, and according to one local official, may be one of the first communities in the province to do so.

At its April 28 meeting, council adopted the Level of Fire Department Service Policy, which specifically outlines which services the Burns Lake Fire & Rescue department will provide within the municipality and rural fire protection area, and to what degree.

The policy states that depending on the number of firefighters available, their level of training, and the availability of equipment and other resources, Burns Lake Fire & Rescue will fight structural and wild land interface fires within the service area, provide some motor vehicle rescue services throughout the region, complete basic fire inspections and investigations, and participate in ice and cold water rescues. The department will also offer limited “medical co-response”, and respond to incidents involving hazardous materials at an “awareness level”.

The Burn Lake department may (again, depending on available resources and training) provide an operations level response to hazardous materials incidents, some slope rescue and confined space services, and undertake industrial firefighting duties.

Formally declaring the fire department’s levels of service in this manner allows village council (the ‘Authority Having Jurisdiction’ over fire protection in this area) to determine the level of training firefighters here must have to comply with the province’s new mandatory minimum training standards. Those standards were set out last September in the Office of the Fire Commissioner’s British Columbia Fire Service Minimum Training Standards document, commonly referred in the industry as the ‘Playbook’.

In introducing the policy to council April 28, Burns Lake fire chief Jim McBride noted that considerable research went into its preparation. He added that to his knowledge, Burns Lake council is one of the first in BC to begin implementing the Office of the Fire Commissioner (OFC) ‘Playbook’.

“Outside of Taylor, this is the only proactive council that’s in the process of drafting something like this,” he indicated, “so I applaud not only my colleagues’ efforts, but also council as well.”

Village officials say adopting the training standards outlined in the OFC’s ‘Playbook’ won’t likely have a significant impact on fire department operations here. Burns Lake Fire & Rescue already has a comprehensive training program in place, and its operational guidelines and policies are based on accepted national and international standards.

“It takes what the fire chief and deputy fire chief have already developed and puts it in a formalized policy as per the ‘Playbook’ mandate,” Sheryl Worthing, Chief Administrative Officer for the municipality, explained in a recent interview. “In my opinion, there will be no significant changes. We have developed a training regime that closely follows the requirements set out in the ‘Playbook’. We are presently working with the Collage of the Rockies to provide us with a training curriculum that will suffice all these requirements and issue certificate of competencies to each member upon completion of each training module.”

Some local governments have complained that implementing the OFC ‘Playbook’ will have a significant impact on small fire departments. In a resolution submitted last week to the North Central Local Government Association, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako described the OFC ‘Playbook’ as “extremely prohibitive for rural communities and small volunteer fire departments,” and called on the province to provide additional funding for implementation costs.

Worthing acknowledges that bringing Burns Lake’s training program fully in line with the new provincial standard will have some financial implications for the municipality.

“Council did approve an increase in the 2015 fire department training and travel budget of $4000 to cover off enrolment, training manuals and aids, and bringing in instructors for the sole purpose of ensuring we can cover off what is required under the ‘Playbook’ requirements,” she said.

While Burns Lake council voted unanimously to adopt Burns Lake’s Level of Fire Department Service Policy on April 28, at least one elected official voiced some concern.

At the meeting, Councillor John Illes asked McBride if he felt the policy would achieve its stated purpose.

“Chief McBride, are you sure this is the answer?” enquired Illes. “I just have to ask the question, because we’re embarking down something that… Well, we put a lot of faith in you and your staff.”

McBride responded by saying only “time will tell.”

“This is, as I view it, like any standard operating procedures or anything like this,” he said. “It’s a written document that can be changed with consent from all parties. So this is how I view it, and I think our original policy statement states something very similar to that.

“I’ve had a number of requests to share this with my colleagues, so I kind of feel a wee bit proud of the fact that we stirred the pot, I guess, for lack of a better word.”

The OFC ‘Playbook’ establishes minimum standards of training for all fire services personnel in BC. It also sets out a competency-based ladder that provides for a minimum level of sequential training and operational requirements that must be met by each fire department. It does not apply to the province’s Wildfire Management Branch.