For the past two weeks Penticton has been B.C.’s hot spot for fire safety.
Nearly 600 delegates from about 400 fire departments converged on the city and surrounding areas for a series of meetings, seminars and live-fire and rescue-skills programs which wrapped up today with the final session of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. conference.
Also here during that time were delegates from the Emergency Vehicle Technicians Association of B.C. and the B.C. Fire Training Officers Association.
Cornerstone of the event was the two-day B.C. Fire Expo featuring the latest and greatest in equipment, billed as the largest fire service trade show in the Pacific Northwest.
“It was very successful, so much so that they (FCABC) signed a contract and are coming back in 2015,” said Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams, Thursday. “I cannot count the number of times the delegates and partners would stop me to say what a professional and courteous staff we have both at the Penticton Fire Department and the trade and the convention centre as well as all the merchants.”
While the exact economic impact to the communities was not available, officials estimate it to be in the range of $5 million.
One important issue raised during the fire chiefs conference related to fire department training which came from details in an independent report by the B.C. Institute of Technology.
The document stated a lack of “provincial oversight and funding” has led to inconsistent fire services training across the province and recommended the government set and enforce new standardized minimum training requirements, allocating funding for training and delivery or overseeing of accredited training.
“Ultimately this report confirms what we’ve been saying all along, the lack of standards, oversight and funding for fire services training is putting British Columbians at risk,” said FCABC president Len Garis. “Communities across our province are struggling to pay for fire services that are essential to the safety of all citizens.”
Association members unanimously endorsed the recommendations.
Penticton deputy chief Dave Spalding, who co-organized the fire training officers segment, hosted as well by the Summerland Fire Department, stressed fighting fires has changed significantly, making ongoing training critical.
“Firefighters used to just run in and they would try and make the save and die,” said Spalding. “They would get caught up in flash-overs and backdrafts and all kinds of things and now we understand that better. Because we’ve killed so many firefighters, they’ve actually put some science behind it and improved things to keep us safe.
“Making sure firefighters are aware of that is critical because if you’ve got somebody that’s been in the fire service for 30 years, what he did 30 years ago he can’t do today because he’s going to hurt himself or his crew.”
In particular he pointed to the building materials used in new structures and even the contents in homes and offices.
“It used to be what we call legacy construction, wood and natural fibres, but now it’s all poly-something,” he said. “Now it burns hotter and quicker and what used to be a 10-minute window for us to get there is a now a four-minute window, so if we’re in there (burning building) when it (time runs out) happens we’re in trouble. And if it happens before we get there, the people who live there are in trouble.”
Other training sessions included firefighter rescue techniques in the event of a roof or floor collapse.
According to Spalding, the added bonus of having the conference here was the opportunity of area volunteer departments, few of which have training officers, to share in the skills sessions.
Penticton also no longer has a training officer, however, there is a recommendation on the books to revisit the issue in the coming months.