By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Lethbridge County is supporting a grant application from the Lethbridge Fire Service that would benefit firefighting efforts throughout the region.
During their regular Jan. 15 meeting, representatives from the Lethbridge Fire Service approached Lethbridge County council in regards to a training grant.
The Lethbridge Fire Service is pursuing a provincial fire training grant for three initiatives that Gerrit Sinke, deputy chief of training and safety for the Lethbridge Fire Service, said would be a package deal.
The first initiative was for a program called the Agriculture Wildland Co-operative (AWC).
“In the last dozen years, we’ve had serval substantial wild land fire events that tend to come from the west side of the city and head towards the city’s boundaries,” said Sinke.
“We’ve seen in Fort McMurray, once it breaches the city boundary, with wind driven fires it’s very difficult to stop these events. What the Agriculture Wildland Co-operative is going to do is really going to look at the farming partners that come alongside in these big events. When these things happen, several county fire departments come out and are involved. We work very closely together with them, we all have the same procedures; we know what staging looks like, we know what deployment looks like, we know what communication looks like. When the farmers come onside, they come with huge equipment, they come with enormous energy and they come with the right motivation and drive to help out and put out these fires. We commend that, we respect that, and we need that. Quite frankly, a tractor and a disc is going to put out a whole lot more fire than one fire truck and then a couple of people and a hose line.”
The issue, according to Sinke, is that when these fires occur, the firefighters are out in the field with a lot of equipment and zero visibility, and when their agriculture partners don’t know the fire services’ procedures and plans are, it can create a hazard for everyone involved.
The AWC aims to address that by engaging farmers and creating a pro-active registry listing the equipment available, who is willing to help out and when they can help, as well as educating people on what to do when an event occurs. Sinke says they also want to use the opportunity to engage their Fire Smart program, which encourages people minimize the risk of fire events on their farms.
“Their energy and their equipment is something we value immensely, we just need to organize the effort.”
Reeve Lorne Hickey asked how many farmers on the west side were left to engage, as there weren’t that many. Sinke noted in phase one — where they approach the west side farmers — there won’t be that many, but he expected more people to jump aboard that weren’t in that phase one area.
“For example, Hutterite colonies, they come out in droves, and I imagine we would engage them,” said Sinke. “Really, I see it also as a program that is also going to mushroom a little bit. If it works for the City of Lethbridge, it’s going to work for Nobleford, for Picture Butte and other communities.”
Hickey and coun. Klaas Vander Veen voiced support for the AWC.
Another component for the grant was for them to hold a one-week metal health symposium for the region’s first responders, including the rural services.
“First responders see, hear and smell things that most of humanity never does. What that means for us is if that is not addressed, people eventually retire as a shell of a human being that they once were. What that means for the county’s services is that volunteer retention is terrible,” said Sinke. “It’s very difficult to keep people around if you haven’t thought of the mental health piece of what these people go through.”
The final component is the Nozzle Forward program, which the Lethbridge Fire Service had offered last year.
“In the fire service, the concept use to be, and to some degree is, all we need to do is put the wet stuff on the red stuff and we all go home. We all understand there is a lot more to fire science then there ever was. There is extensive research out there that shows if you don’t understand flow path, if you don’t know how to read smoke, if you don’t know how to look for collapse zones, the line-of-duty death becomes a real possibility in your service,” said Sinke. “Basically, what (Nozzle Forward) does, is take all of that research that’s out there, and translates that into easy to understand language so that you take a two-day workshop — whether that’s full-time or volunteer alike — and you’re equipped with 80 per cent of the basic tools that you can use immediately when the rubber meets the road.”
The grant they are applying for to cover all three initiatives would be about $75,000.
Lethbridge County council unanimously passed a motion to support the City of Lethbridge’s fire department’s application for a Fire Services Training program grant to help establish a Agricultural Wildland Co-operative, host a mental health symposium and to promote the Nozzle Forward program.