Spring has sprung: A letter from the fire chief

Stettler Regional Fire Department responded to a baler fire north west of Stettler on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Two large fire trucks as well as several volunteers and neighbours attended the scene. The reason for the combustion of the baler is unknown at this time but it did travel into nearby brush and deadfall, causing the fire to spread. Nearby cattle were moved to a different pasture for the time being. (Terri Huxley/ECA Review)
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Warmer weather is here, and spring is in the air.

Although the thought of spring is a very welcome one, it also means an increased risk of fires, and increased challenges responding to them for volunteer fire departments.

Spring winds and warmer temperatures dry out grasses, vegetation litter, and other fuel sources for fires. Wind contributes to rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior if a fire does occur.

Soft ground conditions coupled with flooded areas can mean real challenges for our fire departments.

Oftentimes in spring, our fire departments are managing limited access when responding to fire calls.

Suppression efforts can do lots of damage to landscapes and native grasslands, sometimes even more than the fire itself.

We do our very best to minimize this damage, but sometimes difficult ground conditions and limited access points really take away a lot of options for responding fire departments.

Over the last couple of years, Alberta has had the dubious distinction of having some of the costliest major disasters in the entire country.

Of these incidents, fires are at the top of the list which this trend is increasing in frequency, severity, and cost.

Human-caused fires account for many preventable fires each spring, from grass fires resulting from unsupervised or poorly managed controlled burns to the careless disposal of cigarettes and hot works.

What is one of the first steps we can take to prevent fires? To be proactive and prepare for them.

Being proactive is something we all do in other parts of our lives.

From vaccinating livestock to prevent disease to spraying weeds to prevent crop loss to maintaining equipment to prevent costly repairs, we all find ways to control issues in advance before those problems control us.

These preventative management decisions don’t always show their benefits right away.

They are an investment into our future: our profitability, our productiveness, our bottom lines.

The same principle applies to fire prevention and emergency preparedness. Applying FireSmart strategies in advance translates into fewer incidents, less damage, and increased productivity for your operation.

FireSmart principles can be applied to your residence, property, equipment, and entire operation. You can learn more about FireSmarting – and how to apply it – in our Grassfire Safety Kits.

These free kits walk you through the different actions you can take to reduce your risks from grass fires.

Thankfully, most fire events our fire departments respond to are not too serious. In these conditions, our fire departments may use more aggressive control techniques, including offensive and indirect attacks.

For those incidents where the fire is larger and more dangerous, our response shifts to a more defensive approach.

This is an operational decision which is seated in fire fighting techniques and which prioritizes the most critical part of any emergency response – the protection of lives and the health and safety of emergency responders.

In emergency management, responses are grounded in protecting people first, then property.

By applying FireSmart principles today, you will be helping to protect critical pieces of your operation in advance of an emergency or fire.

So where should you begin? 

The best place to start is to assess what is the most critical infrastructure, and then dedicate resources to protecting it.

Resources does not always mean money; they can be time and effort spent to clean up around them.

By establishing what your infrastructure priorities are, you can know where to focus your preventative measures.

The home ignition zones – and the different prevention steps you can take in each of them – are used in the FireSmart program to reduce the risk of buildings igniting during a fire. I encourage you to watch this quick 3 minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0ClodnHp2c.

It highlights these different zones and offers some simple suggestions you could implement today to reduce your risk tomorrow.

I can only speak for myself, but I believe it is comforting to know you have done everything you can within your ability to mitigate or prevent problems, even if they still occur.

We have seen an increase in fire prevention strategies being put in place by residents throughout the region the past few years.

From having well-maintained fire guards to choosing non-combustible materials like metal for buildings to investing in community water trucks and wagons, individuals are making the right choices to help reduce the risks posed by fires to their homes, their yards, and their communities.

I encourage all ratepayers and residents in our region to take a moment to think about how you can help reduce your risks from grass fires and other hazards this spring.

 

by Glen Durand, Special Areas Fire Chief

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