By Cole Parkinson
The Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Service has experienced a fairly similar year compared to last but due to COVID-19, plenty of changes have had to be made.
While the year isn’t over yet, the M.D. is reporting a similar call volume compared to 2019.
“So far so good, we are on the same pace for call volume as last year. We are currently at 171 calls year to date, two ahead of 2019. Touch wood we’ve had a quiet harvest fire season so far, but we are not out of the woods yet. We have once again seen an increase in 2020 of motor vehicle collisions, especially on clear dry roads where weather is not a factor,” explained Brian Schafer, M.D. of Taber regional fire chief, who also touched on the fact harvest is still going strong in southern Alberta. “With harvest in full swing and construction going on in our area the highways are very busy with all sorts of traffic and large trucks. Give yourself plenty of time to get to where you need to be, slow down and drive safe.”
Much like everyone else, the fire service had to delay and shift around their schedules when the pandemic hit full stride in the spring.
While summer saw a loosening on restrictions, the fire service and their six stations were able to get back into a more normal groove heading into harvest.
“All Stations were closed to the public. Our Stations were off-limits to the volunteers unless they were responding for an emergency call out. Sanitization and prevention guidelines were also brought in for when we did go on calls, they are still in effect today. We had to postpone all of our in house official NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) Level I & II training that had been going on since September. Once things opened back up in late June / July we were able to resume and even after the long break we had 10 more members from Enchant and Vauxhall complete their Level II testing late August,” continued Schafer, who also explained how some things will continue to be implemented moving forward after the pandemic. “On a positive note, we implemented the book work portion of training via the Zoom platform. Due to the ease of its use and success, we will continue to use this tool for other future training. It will save a lot of time and personal expense driving to and from courses for the volunteers and keep them at home in their own communities in case of any calls.”
Even with an odd year, the fire service has continued to gain volunteer members as they continue to creep towards their maximum number.
“(There are) 15 new recruits at the stations in 2020 but we also had a few leave us that went back to school, they changed jobs and now volunteering no longer fits in their life as well as people moving away,” stated Schafer, who also explained they have not yet hit their ideal target of volunteers. “Not yet. Back in 2015 when we regionalized, we set our bar high with a cap of 125 RFS members. We are currently around the 105 member mark. Each station has a couple of lockers still to fill, people can get applications at the front doors of the hall or apply online via the M.D. of Taber website.”
On top of a couple of new recruits, the M.D. fire service has also been dabbling in a few new technologies and training that will benefit the department.
“Deputy regional Chief (Joe) Bruyere took some courses to become certified to inspect and re-certify our SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus). Now, instead of outsourcing this process we can now do it internally, the equipment we purchased will pay for itself in two more years,” said Schafer. “All remaining units in Vauxhall and the hamlet stations have dash cams installed in them now. They are a great tool for us for training as well as documentation with photos or video when responding to calls.”
With only a few months left in 2020, the fire service is expecting it to be a busy few weeks of training before the calendar flips to 2021.
“We have an NFPA Level I running for the entire RFS via Zoom. The students get together for the skills nights as they work through the course until the end mid-December 2020,” continued Schafer. “Doing the book work via Zoom allows the volunteers to do this from the comfort of their own home or station and keeps them in the community in case there are any calls. We are also planning our own in house NFPA 1041 Instructor and NFPA 1024 Officer courses later this fall and into 2021.”