A review of the Revelstoke Fire and Rescue Services makes 26 recommendations, including recruiting more volunteers, improving training standards, continuing 24/7 dispatch, setting targeted response times and adopting ranks for career and volunteer firefighters.
The report, which was prepared by the Davis Consulting Group, was released by the City of Revelstoke Friday morning. In February, the city said it was conducting the review as a way of providing the most effective and cost efficient level of services.
“It was our responsibility to ensure that we left no stone unturned when looking at ways to improve our services to our citizens, as well as our bottom line,” said Mayor David Raven in a news release. “Council asked for this external review to provide an objective opinion about what’s working well and what needs to change in order to provide the best value to our community. The report makes some great recommendations that will assist Council and the Fire Chief in improving the services we provide today”.
The report identifies three key problems with the fire department – a high turnover rate amongst volunteers; a lack of reliability of response to pages, and a lack of policies for service levels that leaves expectations unclear.
According to the report, the number of calls the department responds to has risen to about 10 per week in 2012 from only three per week in 2008.
The high costs of fire services has been raised as an issue several times in recent years. Career firefighters have ranked amongst the highest paid city employees in recent years.
The review looked at all aspects of the department’s operations, including shift patterns, the number of calls and response times, training and recruitment of volunteers, changes to fire service delivery model, firefighting equipment, and the impact of the Fire Underwriters Survey.
The report compares the Revelstoke fire department to those in similar communities, including Salmon Arm, Nelson, Kitimat, Sooke, Terrace and Dawson Creek. The comparison communities vary in the way they staff their departments – Salmon Arm relies mostly on volunteers while Dawson Creek only uses full-time firefighters. Only Sooke and Salmon Arm spend less on their departments, though on a per capita basis, Revelstoke spends the third most, behind Kitimat and Dawson Creek.
The report recommends the following:
– The continuation of 24/7 dispatch;
– A general response time for the first engine on scene in eight minutes, 80 per cent of the time, and the second engine in 12 minutes, 80 per cent of the time, with at least four trained firefighters onboard; the report also specifies recommended response times for various types of calls;
– That city administrators prepare a fire/rescue policy;
– Medical first response is limited to life-threatening calls only;
– Limiting response to fire structures fires outside city limits to those that receive the same level of fire inspection as structures within city limits;
– Providing National Fire Protection Association standard training for full-time firefighters and officers;
– Implementing a rank structure in the fire department. Full-time firefighters would be given the rank of captain and volunteers with more than four years experience would receive the rank of lieutenant;
– Establishing a policy for replacing equipment;
– Create a satellite fire station on the south side of the Illecillewaet River;
A lot of the recommendations deal with the recruitment and retainment of volunteers. The report recommends increasing the number of volunteers to 40, using community leaders to help with recruitment, and providing volunteers with uniforms once they complete basic training, similar to those issued to full-time firefighters.
The report also recommends reducing the stipend paid to the Revelstoke Fire Rescue Society to $5,000 per year from the current $55,000, and instead having a $50,000 fund that would be paid directly to individual volunteers by the city.
The aim of these moves is to increase turnout by volunteers. If that doesn’t work, the report recommends using a standby system, where volunteers are expected to be on standby for a minimum number of shifts.
The goal is that as the turnout rate by volunteers improve and volunteer experience levels increase, full-time firefighters won’t have to be called out as often, thereby reducing overtime costs.
The report does look at the issue of cost, noting that communities with full-time firefighters have higher costs than those with a mix of full-time and part-time staff, and those that deploy volunteers only. However, it notes the collective agreement between the city and the Interior Association of Firefighters states full-time staff can’t be replaced by part-time staff, so the report does not examine the issue in detail. Later, the authors state, “We were unable to identify any significant savings beyond those already identified by the Fire Chief.”
The report goes on to say the city could look at ways to increase revenues instead.
The report also looks at using a paid-on-call system instead of full-time firefighters. In the PoC system, 40 volunteers would be divided into four platoons of 10 members each who would rotate being on standby, and would get paid an hourly rate whenever they are called out. The report recommends against making the change, saying it would only save about $26,000 per year, but would increase response times, and be difficult to implement.
Fire Chief Rob Girard called the recommendations “a positive step forward.”
“Simply put, it makes something good that much better with regards to the emergency services we provide our community,” he said.
Career and volunteer firefighters also expressed support for the reports findings.
“Our membership is encouraged to see one of the key recommendations in the review is maintaining the current level of career staffing and are happy this process is behind us so we can move forward in working with management to implement the positive recommendations in the report and continue to provide a quality service the citizens of Revelstoke deserve,” said Roger Echlin, the president of the Local Interior Association of Firefighters.
Council has directed staff to review the recommendations and come up with a plan to implement them.