The Castlegar Fire Department (CFD) recently released its annual report for 2017.
The 849 calls the department responded to in 2017 was down from the previous two years, but still quite an increase over 2008 to 2014 numbers which ranged from 640 to 790.
Two categories that showed increases were medical first responder calls and “other” calls which includes a large number of B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) assists.
Medical first-responder calls were up from 34 to 54 and BCAS assists numbered 135.
The topic of these medical calls was brought up by city councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff at a November council meeting during a discussion about dissatisfaction with ambulance wait times, staffing levels and the number of ambulances stationed in Castlegar.
“It is downloading the issue on to municipalities,” said Heaton-Sherstibitoff at the meeting. “When a call goes into 911, our first-responders are the first ones on the scene and they have to stay there until the ambulance comes.”
Those first responders — such as the Castlegar Fire Department — are paid by the city.
Castlegar’s fire chief Sam Lattanzio explained that first-responder medical calls were those where the department was the first to a arrive on scene at a medical incident and that they were the primary caregivers until the ambulance arrived. They are required to document everything done for the patient and B.C. Emergency Health Services forms must be filled out — resulting in a lot of paperwork.
Ambulance-assist calls can range from helping move a patient that is too large for ambulance crews to move alone to aiding in cardiac cases or helping to free the patient from the situation they are in so that ambulance attendants can help them.
CFD maintains a good response time that is “well within recognized standards,” according to Lattanzio. Once a call comes in, the command vehicle is usually on its way within 30 seconds and most of the time it is on scene in five to six minutes, depending on the location of the call, with more crews and vehicles following behind as needed.
“Depending on the nature of the call … we will call out one or two companies unless it is a fire — we will do an all-call and page everybody,” said Lattanzio. “Any available members are requested to respond to the hall as safely as possible, within allowable speed limits. We do not rush to the fire hall in our personal vehicles — it’s against the law,” he added.
Calls for actual fires were down as were motor vehicle accidents but calls that required the Jaws of Life were up slightly. The number of other rescue calls stayed close to the same.
The department provides Jaws of Life services for entrapments from Nancy Greene to the Bombi summit. For these calls, they are sent out under the provincial authority of Emergency Management B.C.
The dollar amount of fire losses was also down to just $126,300 from $706,550 in 2016.
False alarms were down to 57 from 88 the previous year and Lattanzio says that is something the department is working on reducing even more. The department is being firm with property owners with faulty alarm systems, who can be fined for repeated offences. A one hour call with a fire engine costs $576 and property owners can be charged for the time.
CFD also performed 280 inspections on public buildings in 2017. There are between 400 and 600 properties in Castlegar that need inspections on a regular basis. How often an inspection is needed is determined by a risk assessment process with schools, apartment buildings and other high-risk structures inspected annually and those with lower risks inspected every few years.
Lattanzio also explained that prevention, inspection and education are all important parts of the department’s mandate.