With standards changing every year, fire Chief Les Karpluk is doing his best to make sure the Prince Albert Fire Department is up to date.
“With the standards, as good as they are, few departments can meet them,” he said of the National Fire Protection Association-approved standards.
But, getting as close as possible to the optimum standard is always the goal, he noted.
“If something happens, then I want to be able to demonstrate that we as a department have demonstrated due diligence.”
It always comes down to money and how much city council determines local coffers are willing to contribute.
Poring over a desk full of budget material, Karpluk anticipates proposing a “modest” increase, the details of which have yet to be finalized by himself and therefore yet to go before council.
One of the biggest items he plans on addressing is the importance of response times, which the National Fire Protection Association has set at six minutes and 20 seconds during 90 per cent of calls.
“We’re looking at getting on scene in that timeframe 40 per cent of the time, so we don’t meet the standards,” Karpluk said.
The main area of concern is the city’s southeast quadrant, where Karpluk will again be proposing a substation be built.
This area boasts the worst response time, at more than nine minutes.
The substation proposal has been before council in the past, stemming from a 2008 master plan, which cites the need for substations in both the city’s southern quadrants.
With more residential properties to the east, this was chosen first, Karpluk explained, noting that a large majority of new homes are built with a lightweight truss structure.
“There are a lot of benefits to it for the construction industry, but the burn time on them is 50 per cent faster,” he said, noting that the majority of homes in the city’s southeast quadrant are likely built in this manner.
“Light weight truss systems are complicating our job. It’s increasing the risk … The sooner we can get that station built, the happier this chief will be.”
Another major initiative the fire department has planned for the coming year -- again, depending on council decisions -- will be additional training in confined spaces, trench rescue, river rescue, rope rescue techniques and hazardous materials.
“This year, there’s a lot of classroom, a lot of theory, a lot of practical training, but that’s what we’ve got to do,” Karpluk said.
If something happens, then I want to be able to demonstrate that we as a department have demonstrated due diligence. - Fire Chief Les Karpluk
Although the fire department’s new deputy chief Jason Everitt is able to head many of these training sessions, in some cases, professionals from outside the province will have to come in.
“You bring someone in for five days, that’s $20,000, so you don’t do a whole bunch of those. If you’re lucky, you can do two a year,” Karpluk said.
A number of additional items will come up -- most related to their hopes of adhering to National Fire Protection Association standards.
Regulations dictate that each firefighter needs custom-fitting facepieces, Karpluk said, meaning a $20,000 purchase is necessary.
“That’s not a nice to have, that’s legislation and you have to do it,” Karpluk said. “But then we have the equipment and we don’t have to rent.”
Another regulation, which he doesn’t anticipate the fire department meeting this year, is to have 15 firefighters attend the scene of a basic, single-storey residential fire.
“I have, at the best, two shifts that have 12 and two with 11,” Karpluk said. “I’m going to ask for two more firefighters this year to balance us off, so I have 12 per platoon … The majority of the time, we’re at minimum manning, which is eight.”
In addition to their hopes of meeting more National Fire Protection Association standards, Karpluk said that another goal this year will be community building.
“We have to be involved in the community, not just with fire prevention education, but we need to be involved in dealing with social issues,” Karpluk said.
The fire department is already at Community Mobilization Prince Albert’s Hub table, helping in cases centred on housing and youth who like starting fires.
“Do you only want to see us when you dial 911?” Karpluk asked.
“How about we’re more proactive -- if we’re more integrated into community centres and working with community organizations … That’s, I think, healthy. That’s holistic.”
The city’s elected officials will consider the fire department budget within the next couple months, to be finalized in March during budget committee meetings.