Changes coming to Alberni fire department

Changes are coming to the Port Alberni Fire Department as a result of a study released by city council on Tuesday.

Produced by Burnaby-based consultant Dugal Smith, the report examined the fire department’s operations and staffing levels.

Council commissioned the study last year, but Smith just started his research in February.

Specific attention was paid to the role and need for the deputy chief and fire prevention officers positions.

Smith recommends that the deputy chief and fire prevention officers positions remain.

The deputy chief provides on site management when the chief is gone, training delivery and stakeholder relations.

The fire prevention officer provides inspection services, fire code compliance, and investigations of major fires.

The positions reflect the Valley’s low fire losses, Smith said.

Administrative proposals include accelerated pre-fire plans for public buildings, a review of fees and fines, updating fire laws as well as operating guidelines.

Other recommendations include more detailed reporting to council, as well as restricting automatic aid agreements with regional fire departments to a six-month trial run.

Smith also prompted the department to charge ICBC or its customers $2,000 per incident for highway rescue calls.

The report called for an administrative assistant to be added to the department to relieve fire fighters of administrative duties.

Such a position is common in other departments, and one third of the cost for the position could be recovered from providing services to other departments.

Council exempted the assistant’s position from the vote, though, with the option of proceeding with it later.

“We’re not looking at adding another job – we’re not talking about that,” Mayor Ken McRae said. All other recommendations were accepted.

Fire chief Tim Pley said later that operational changes weren’t needed, but administrative changes were.

Taking the pressure off the administrative side would allow firefighters to get back to doing just that – fighting fires. “We’ve been trying to generate revenue to offset costs,” he said.

“We’ve been trying too hard to do that and pay attention to the department’s core service.”

The recommendations are consistent with what has been promoted over the last decade, said Coun. Cindy Solda, who has the city’s fire portfolio.

“Larry McGifford (former fire chief) used to fight so hard for some of these things,” Solda said.

The public has a love-hate relationship with the fire department, Solda said.

“When there’s a fire in our back yard then people will bring them coffee and doughnuts and can’t praise them enough,” she said.

“Then when it’s quiet then the first thing people say is “Let’s kill the department.””

reporter@albernivalleynews.com