Four firehalls consolidated

There has been a major change in the way the four RDEK fire halls operate in the Columbia Valley.

There has been a major change in the way the four RDEK fire halls operate in the Columbia Valley, as a consolidation of the Windermere, Fairmont Hot Springs, Panorama and Edgewater fire departments means that all four halls now fall under the same umbrella of Columbia Valley Rural Fire and Rescue Services (CVRFRS).

“There won’t be a dramatic change in the appearance of the individual halls and crews, but the difference will be visible in time through the reliable delivery of services, while maintaining a cost effective program,” CVRFRS Deputy Fire Chief Martin Caldwell told The Valley Echo.  “Larger teams, prompter and more reliable responses, as well as expanded services should become apparent in the coming years. Secondary benefits such as reductions in insurance rates could also become apparent as the programs mature.”

Beginning in May of 2012, the administrative responsibilities of the four fire halls were consolidated under a single management structure, driven by the need to maintain effective leadership for the growing fire departments as well as standardizing training and operations. Former Windermere fire chief Jim Miller is now responsible for the daily administration of all four fire halls, as well as working with the RDEK staff and board as Fire Chief for the Columbia Valley. Deputy Chief Martin Caldwell (formerly of Panorama) joined Deputy Chief Drew Sinclair full-time in managing the daily operations of the local halls. The three full-time managers work out of the new fire hall in Windermere, and support administration, operations and training at each of the local halls. All inquiries for each of the local departments are now handled centrally through the offices based in Windermere.

“The change should allow for stable long-term leadership development and retention, and should provide a reliable platform from which to focus on consistent service delivery across the region,” Caldwell said. “Standardizing operational practices where appropriate will enhance the ability of local emergency services to work together on emergency scenes, and improve their effectiveness. Combining training initiatives will see firefighters across the region improve their skill sets, and gain access to training previously unattainable due to cost or logistics.”

Other benefits include streamlining administrative procedures and accounting practices to increase efficiency and reduce costs through group purchasing. According to Caldwell, the change has already begun to realize benefits in a number of different areas, including a new centralized training program for new recruits, and new projects including targeted recruiting, expanded training and operational enhancements are also in the works.

“The administrative and operational requirements of maintaining a safe and effective volunteer fire department have grown beyond what volunteer managers can support, and the nature of the industry requires a significant time commitment from chief officers,” Caldwell said. “Recent retirements of long-term volunteer chiefs combined with a growing list of current and future needs indicated that a combined full-time management structure was the most effective way to maintain, and ultimately enhance, service levels in the community.”