By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Lethbridge County council is looking at the potential to create an Emergency Management Regional Program with the eventual amalgamation of municipal emergency service departments within the county into one regional entity.
County council passed the motion Jan. 14 to approve the transfer of up to $15,000 from emergency service reserves to cover the cost to hire Emergency Response Management Consulting (ERMC), a consulting firm.
“I believe council is very familiar with the amount of research and study we’ve done over the past 10 years in regards to different service models, for the delivery of emergency management and emergency services. All of those studies resulted in the same recommendation — to develop a model of regionalization or partnership, as opposed to the current service model, where we negotiate, maintain and renegotiate emergency service agreements with different municipalities,” said Darryl Beaton, Lethbridge County’s emergency services co-ordinator.
In the last year or so, Beaton added, it’s become very apparent the county’s efforts to unify those agreements, so they all look identical, is becoming more and more difficult.
“As you all know, 2014-2015 and even into 2016 has been a difficult negotiating period of time for fire and rescue service agreements. In that process, administration and the emergency advisory committee met with a consultant,” he noted, adding the consultant has vast experience in the regionalization and developing partnerships for emergency services. Beaton believes the consulting firm had a strong message to assist the county in understanding and building buy-in regionalization or a partnership-type model.
What the county hasn’t been able to accomplish, Beaton explained, is implementing such a system. “We’ve studied it, we’ve recommended it but we are still falling short on getting something implemented. Part of that is a communication strategy. If we bought in before you can partner with somebody else, they have to buy in too. It has to work for all parties. We believe a partnership or regionalization model can work for all parties,” he said.
What the county needs to do now and what has been recommended, Beaton added, is the county needs to move forward with a communication strategy and that is where ERMC comes in.
“We believe we have enough evidence regionalization is recommended and now we would like to more clearly define how that would look,” he said.
ERMC, Beaton said, could begin that communication strategy to start delivering the message from a third-party — unbiased and independent.
“To the other municipalities we contract for emergency services on what a regional system or partnership system would look like. The idea behind this is it’s not another study to recommend once again we regionalize, it’s more of an education piece to say this is where we need to go and intend to go at some point,” Beaton said.
According to Beaton, the current model is not responsibly sustainable and it’s inefficient, expensive and it’s extremely vulnerable. “As we’ve experienced in the last year or so.”
Beaton said the county would like to send Chief Administrative Officer Rick Robinson, along with ERMC to have conversations and to see if a buy-in on a program by emergency services departments within the county is plausible.
Reeve Lorne Hickey asked Beaton if the services each department provides is somewhat equal with what each department can or can’t do and if it has anything to do with the current contracts with each department in the county.
“They are fairly equal in what they can and can’t do. Where you may have differences is one department may be able to get more training for their firefighters than others. They have more participation. Certainly, the fleet in each fire hall is almost identical,” he said, adding the service is generally uniform.
Coun. John Willms said this opportunity will take some very careful negotiating. “These guys are all very protective of their own departments,” he said. “I don’t know, this is going to be a tough one.”
“I wouldn’t call it so much as protective. They have pride in each organization and that’s a good thing,” said Coun. Morris Zeinstra. But, they feel threatened, added Willms.
Robinson noted all the county emergency services departments have a tremendous amount of pride and anytime change is discussed, there is the possibility each department or members of a department may feel threatened.
“But, this for Lethbridge County and those departments, this is a step in the right direction. It’s trying to take that giant leap forward and then baby steps into sustainability,” Robinson said.
“We really need to have a stronger partnership and regional relationship with our emergency services departments,” he added.
Robinson explained the ERMC will go out and explain the benefits of forming a partnership and/or regional relationship. “That’s the purpose of this.”