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Local co-operation key in fighting rural fires: Coté

Posted on October 12, 2023 by Vauxhall Advance

By Trevor Busch
Vauxhall Advance

New equipment and a few major fires highlighted the year for Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Services.

“We had a few decent events. It’s always tough – obviously, when an event happens, somebody suffers a great loss and some hardship for themselves or their business. And that makes it really tough,” said Nathan Coté, regional fire chief. “This spring, we had a fairly large grass fire up in the Hays area that multiple stations responded to, three stations responded to it with multiple units. And it took us about seven or eight hours to be able to extinguish it. So that was probably our largest grass fire that we had this summer.”

A fire in the Enchant area illustrated how neighbours come together to help out in times of local emergency.

“We also had quite a large shop facility on a local farm up in the Enchant area that burnt, and it was a huge loss for that organization and that business,” said Coté. “Fortunately, again, I think we had three stations respond to that as well with multiple units and probably took us about seven, eight hours or so to extinguish that fire as well. The really nice part about having the regional system is how we all can come together and work together. So we have five stations within the MD of Taber alone, that come together and can work together. And then we have lots of really good mutual aid agreements with all of our neighbouring municipalities as well, where we can all work together. So it was really nice the night that shop fire happened, we were getting phone calls from Vulcan County offering to come and assist if we needed anything. So we live in a big world, but a small world after all, and we’re pretty fortunate how our communities come together.”

Water haulers in the Enchant area provided all the water the department would need to fight the fire, which was eventually extinguished.

“The other really neat thing that happened, that I found that night, was water always seems to be pretty important when you’re trying to fight fires,” said Coté semi-sarcastically. “And so we get up there and our trucks only hold so much. And so we need to get water haulers to bring us water. And it was pretty amazing how that community came together. At one time I looked over and I think we had three or four water trucks stacked deep. I think there must have been about a dozen water trucks there of local farmers and different businesses in that area that that really came together to help their neighbour out. It was really fortunate for us to have it. But it was really nice to witness that, how everybody comes together in someone’s time of need and really worked hard to help each other out. So it was pretty fantastic to see that for sure.”

Coté singled out a new face in department management at Vauxhall’s Station 5.

“We’ve made a few changes here and there throughout our organization. As time goes on, people can move on. So up in the Vauxhall station, Station 5, we have a new Assistant District Chief, Riley Brown. He started there a few months back, and he’s doing really well with that. So we’re pretty happy with that.”

Community outreach is something the personnel in the MD’s various satellite stations try to do as much of as possible.

“We definitely do throughout the MD here. We definitely work with Barnwell School, out in Hays, out in Enchant and Vauxhall, we help out with those schools as much as we possibly can,” said Coté. “We definitely try to get involved through Fire Prevention Week and with kindergarten tours and different things like that. I believe we’re going to be having an outdoor education, kind of a little bit of a programme helping out with some outdoor education programming in Barnwell up and coming in the next month or two here, so we’ll be trying to help those guys out a little bit with their stuff.”

The Hays Fire Hall is getting an external facelift this fall.

“So a couple things come to mind, I guess first I’ll start with the fire hall out in Hays, we did a bit of a renovation to the Hays Fire Hall. It’s an exterior renovation. So they’re replacing all the tan on the outside of the building and the deck that’s on the side. And it’s really going to spruce it up quite a bit. And it’s kind of a really nice focal point in the community, where it’s one of the first buildings you see as you drive into the community. So I really think it’ll help bring a really nice image to the community as people drive in, and they see that nice, new tan and a bit of a renovation to the outside of that. So we’re pretty happy with that, looking forward to it they’re working on it right now. So we’re looking forward to the completion of that project what that’s going to look like for the community.” 

Coté pointed out the MD’s regional service has been awaiting the delivery of a new Pierce fire truck, assembled in Florida, which they should receive before the end of the year.

“As far as equipment, it takes a little while nowadays to get a fire truck, about a two year process to get one. So we had ordered a fire truck back in 2021 that’s due to arrive in November, that will be stationed here in the Taber station, our rural station here. And so we’re really looking forward to that. It’s a four wheel drive fire engine that should be able to perform all the things that that we require of an engine for fighting wildland fires, also structure fires, and performing in our rural atmosphere. So we’re pretty excited to see that come and bring that kind of project together. It’s been a long, long go waiting for that truck to come. So we’re pretty excited for that.”

Some used equipment is also joining the department’s fleet.

“And then the last one we did this year also was we purchased a used heavy rescue from Rocky Mountain Phoenix at Red Deer. It’s a used truck that we were able to purchase, we think we got a decent price on it, and we think it’s going to fit into our organization really well and offer a little bit larger protection out on the highway and offer a lot of equipment to be hauled around to the different motor vehicle incidents or the different fire calls that we respond to. It just arrived in the last week and we’re just kind of getting it ready to go and hopefully we’ll be able to bring it online in the next month.”

And last but not least, and dovetailing with the message of Fire Prevention Week, Coté stressed the importance of checking smoke alarms.

“I think the biggest thing that I would want to stress to people is – and this isn’t anything new – but make sure we’re checking our smoke detectors. Our smoke detectors in our homes, if they’re battery operated, those batteries should be changed every time the time changes, that we make sure that we have a good proper battery that’s going to last and work for us within there. And then probably even more importantly nowadays is that they actually expire. So a smoke detector is only good for a certain period of time, which is usually right around the 10 year mark. And so you can buy them where they have an internal battery that lasts for about 10 years or so. Suddenly, either a few months after or maybe even a year after that 10 year mark, they’ll start beeping at you that they’ve hit the end of their life. There’s definitely that possibility in there where they may not be functioning properly. And so it’s just a really good reminder for everyone to grab a look at those smoke detectors, find out the manufacturing date, and if they’re over 10 years old to maybe give a thought to replacing those. And like I said checking the batteries.”

Carbon monoxide detectors are also worth some periodic scrutiny.

“I’ll also add with that a carbon monoxide detector. So most or a lot of homes will have a carbon monoxide detector in them as well. A lot of times you’ll find them in your utility rooms near your furnaces, things like that. And those alarms, actually, they only last somewhere in the five to seven year range depending on manufacturer. And so having a look at those, those dates as well on those just to make sure that they’re within that five to seven years. And usually it’ll tell you when they expire and replacing them when they get to that expiry date, we tend to get called – it’s not a complaint, but all the sudden, somebody’s smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarm will start to beep at them, we’re always happy to come out and help out. But I would say a high percentage of the time when we get there, we find that it’s usually an expired alarm is what it comes down to. And so we’re certainly willing to come out and help out and even if you have something there, we can help you change it out. But it’s one of those things that I think is a good reminder for all of us is just to make sure that we grab a look at those and make sure that they’re not expired,” said Coté.

While MD residents are mindful of the dangers of refuse burning in southern Alberta’s often windy conditions, Coté reminded people to be careful and exercise caution.

“Outside of that I would always recommend some caution. We don’t get too many calls when it comes to, say, burning barrels and things like that on farms and acreages but it does happen once in a while. So just use some extreme caution when burning your yard waste and stuff like that out on your acreage and farms. Just making sure that you have a water source on hand and are able to control that fire. I think we have really good folks within the MD. This year has been a extremely dry year where we haven’t gotten a whole bunch of rain, and quite honestly our folks within the area understand that, they know that, and they’ve been keeping the burning to a minimum. Right now we’re in a fire restriction which limits what we can do for burning and stuff like that. I think they understand and they’re receptive to that and understand that. So we have good folks here for sure.”

Rural firefighting can often rely on the co-operation of residents and neighbours on the ground and in the area, says Coté.

“A couple of things come to mind. Water is our biggest thing. So when we get out in the country, we don’t always have water right at our fingertips. In the communities, usually we have a hydrant system, something like that, that can provide us water. Out in the country we don’t have that. So we rely on dugouts, canals, irrigation turn outs, water trucks to come and bring us water if we need, and honestly the amazing community that we live in, we have a lot of local farmers, I would say a high percentage of them have their own water trucks for their farming operations and they’re able to bring water out and assist us when when we fight fires. Further to that, what I think is unique as well is, when it comes to buildings or structure fires, it’s really hard for the general public to sort of help us out at fires and things like that. When we get out in the countryside, there’s a lot of assistance that we get from local farmers and ranchers where they may even have their own little firefighting apparatus that they’ll come and assist us. So it is unique to be able to work with each other and help each other out, all to try to help a neighbour or a local business or whatever it may be. So it’s kind of unique that way and very helpful at times. And we’re definitely happy to have them come and assist us.”

The M.D. of Taber is very supportive of the service’s operations.

“Our council, the municipality, they’re extremely supportive of our fire service, of our volunteer members within our fire service. But we also want to want to reciprocate that they’re very supportive of us and help us in everything we do from supplying equipment to whatever it may be. And so we’re pretty thankful that they support us the way they do and allow us to go out and do what we do,” said Coté.

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