Fire chief credits prevention efforts for successful year

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Matt Gardner
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Prince Albert Fire Department Chief Les Karpluk, shown here inside the fire hall, credited increased prevention efforts for the lower call volume and fewer fires the department experienced in 2013.

The Prince Albert Fire Department (PAFD) received fewer calls and saw fewer fires in 2013 -- a development that Chief Les Karpluk credited to increased prevention efforts.

Looking at numbers from the previous 12 months, Karpluk argued that the department’s focus on fire prevention in recent years was paying off.

“2013, really, it was a great year for us,” he said.

“Our call volume is down. We run anywhere from 1,000 to 1,100 calls a year. We’re down 15 per cent right now … That’s a lot. Our actual fires are down 28 per cent, so I think a lot of that has to do with our prevention efforts.

“We went through a time where we really had to look at how we did our fire inspections in public ed and we broke that down and revamped it, and you don’t see results right away. You’re going to see results two or three years down the road and I think now finally we’re seeing them. So that’s a good news story.”

Karpluk noted that the department’s two full-time inspectors played an important role in prevention efforts.

The chief also pointed to positive movement in the area of training centred around the department’s five-year technical rescue training plan.

The PAFD revamped its work schedule during the year to refocus the majority of training on the day shift rather than night shift. Staff members spent much of the spring engaged in a dangerous goods operations review, while a trench rescue training plan is in the works for next year.

Karpluk pointed out that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is constantly revising its training standards -- since the margin of error for tasks such as confined space and trench rescue is so small that the slightest mistake can lead to death or injury.

“They’re constantly changing and they’re not getting easier,” Karpluk said. “So when our staff take this training, there are exams and competencies that they must pass, otherwise they’re not going to get certified in the future -- and you know what, we don’t have guys failing.

“Everyone that goes into this knows that and they put the time and effort into studying, so we’re doing good.”

2013 was not without its challenges for the PAFD.

High water levels at Little Red River Park were the most visible, keeping staff members occupied throughout the summer months.

“My role was somewhat different -- more of an emergency management role in that instance,” Karpluk said. “But our guys were patrolling there two, three times a day, because even though we had the barricades up, people are going past there.

“People want to see, and especially with Little Red, with that current, if somebody fell in there, we knew that we weren’t getting them. It was very dangerous.”

Our actual fires are down 28 per cent, so I think a lot of that has to do with our prevention efforts. Fire Chief Les Karpluk

For the most part, the department spent the year dealing with routine fires affecting houses, garages and the occasional vehicle.

Heading into 2014, various developments are in the works for the PAFD.

Starting in January, the department will begin work with a new city manager.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Jim Toye,” Karpluk said. “I will be meeting with him the first week in January.

“We’re going to be discussing the substation … Without a doubt, we know the city of P.A. needs another station.”

A computer program in 2008 stated that P.A. firefighters meet their designated response time 43 per cent of the time, which at that point was six minutes.

By contrast, the NFPA stipulates that firefighters must meet their designated response times in 90 per cent of cases.

A new station, Karpluk said, would significantly reduce the problem.

“I think everybody realizes we need one, it’s just where are we going to put it,” he said.

“That’s the $64,000 question right now. Where is a piece of property that we’re going to put this? So that’s the discussion we’re going to have with the city manager in January and work with him and city council in trying to come up with a plan where we're going to build this station.”

Later in the year, the PAFD will host the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters’ Association conference in October.

The event is expected to attract 300 volunteer firefighters to the city and will include guest speakers such as Dr. Richard Gasaway, who will discuss his research on how the brain functions under stress and its applications to the firefighting profession.

“It’s the first time a career department’s hosted (the conference), so we’re very excited with that,” Karpluk said.

Going forward, the department plans to continue strengthening its relationships with the community.

On that note, Karpluk took the chance to wish the citizens of Prince Albert a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

“I think people really in Prince Albert don’t understand … how much pride our staff have in being a firefighter here and serving this city,” he said.

“Our guys, I’m proud of the professionalism that they display and they take their job serious … We do a good job for the citizens of Prince Albert, and as fire chief, I’m proud to say that.”

Organizations: National Fire Protection Association

Geographic location: P.A., Little Red River Park, Little Red Saskatchewan

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