The Terrace Fire Department announced that staff will be implementing a new training regimen this year, meaning changes are on the way with how they will operate in the future.
The announcement was outlined in the Fire Department’s year-end report delivered to City Council on Feb. 13.
“Ten years ago, our training and recruitment operations happened twice a year and took five or six weeks to complete,” Fire Chief John Klie said over the phone. “The commissioner made it much more astringent.”
In 2015, the Fire Commissioner of B.C. made it mandatory for all fire departments in the province to set a minimum standard of training for staff and volunteer members. The playbook outlines three different service levels for fire departments in B.C. to chose from, including exterior, interior, and full-service operation training programs.
With the program, firefighters in Terrace will now be trained in fire prevention, suppression, hazard mitigation, rescue and pre-hospital care.
Klie said his department chose the interior training program only because the department lacks enough resources to authorize full-service competency.
“Now, the program is about a year long,” said Klie. “There are regular tests, and it’s well regulated.”
All firefighters in Terrace will be ready to engage in rescue operations inside simple structures like single-family dwellings and burning vehicles by the end of April 2018.
“If our firefighters don’t train for these situations and know how to handle them properly, they could be putting their lives at risk trying to go in and rescue people trapped inside,” Klie said.
The year-end report also mentioned the Department received 1,654 calls in 2017, which is 268 more calls than last year.
Klie said this is largely due to the rising number of medical first responder calls, which accounted for 54 per cent of all calls made.
“We do a lot of ‘man down’ alarms, which means there may be someone who is unconscious due to drug use, alcohol or other medical problems,” Klie said. “We don’t really know what we got until we get there.”
Firefighters in smaller communities are often the first people to arrive on the scene for medical calls. Staff can provide free hospital care and help with patient care until an ambulance arrives.
Over 50,000-hours were dedicated between 30 volunteer firefighters in Terrace during the year, meaning each person made themselves available for 30 hours during the week to respond to emergency calls at a moment’s notice.
“We are very lucky that we have volunteers to draw on,” Klie said.
Eight months ago the Terrace Fire Department began training their firefighters on how to properly administer the drug naloxone, which can help reverse the effects of an overdose caused by fentanyl or other opioids.
The program was implemented after B.C. declared a public health emergency in April due to the alarming rise in the number of drug-related deaths.
In Northern Health service delivery areas, there were seven fatal overdoses in the Northwest, 32 in the Northern Interior and 17 in the Northeast in 2017, according to data released by the B.C. Coroners Service.
“It became logical for fire departments to carry the medication,” Klie said.
Klie said that about 10 per cent of medical-related calls made to the Fire Department in 2017 were responding to cases of overdose.
Since 2015, B.C. Emergency Health Services responded to 122 overdose and poisoning calls in Terrace.
– with files from Quinn Bender