The Town of Sexsmith will move forward with the Sexsmith Fire Department’s (SFD) request to add a full-time firefighter position at the local station.
“We just wanted to ensure that we're beefing up our service so that we don't get caught in a position where we can't respond,” said Kate Potter, Sexsmith mayor.
The position, approved at the regular meeting of council Nov. 15, would help with training of volunteer firefighters and help with response times from the station.
Currently, the SFD is a paid response volunteer service with one contracted district chief in a .5 position.
“It (the new position) will work, of course, hand in hand with our district fire chief; we're still keeping that position and running under that,” said Potter.
The SFD currently has about 17 firefighters, said Potter, adding the department has a target of approximately 25 volunteers.
The new full-time firefighter position will be a 9 to 5 job to help ensure that the SFD can respond to calls in the daytime.
The new position is expected to cost between $70,000 to $87,500.
“With the increasing call volume across the region, we are seeing Station 14 tasked more often as the limitations in volunteerism are recognized, and we witness either members working out of Town or employers less committed to allowing volunteers to leave for fire response,” according to the letter to town council asking for funding for the position penned by Deputy Fire Chiefs Nolan Jespersen and Jason Nesbitt.
The SFD is one of three contract providers to the County of Grande Prairie Regional Fire Service (CGPRFS), the others being the Wembley Fire Department and the Beaverlodge Fire Department.
Volunteers' availability is a challenge for the fire station, with volunteers working outside of town, which has seen a lack of personnel available for weekday responses.
“Trying to find people who will respond especially during daytime hours, that's our biggest struggle, and it has been for a long time,” said Potter.
She noted that the town used to partner with the Peace River Bible Institute (PRBI), but declining student numbers and changes at the college in internal policies have seen a decrease in daytime responders.
The transient nature of the Grande Prairie region has presented additional challenges with retention, causing the station to miss opportunities to have more experienced members.
“We see people enter the department that have no roots to the community and often move away due to economic and life factors within their first one to two years of service,” according to the letter to council.
The high turnover has caused difficulties within the station to achieve basic training levels required for members to be fully qualified responders, according to the National Fire Protection Association, states the letter. “This places more liability on the town as Station 14 may be tied up on an emergency response in their area or backing up other stations in the region, and unable to respond into Sexsmith.”
The current response time from the SFD is typically above the 10-minute guideline and the addition of a full-time position could increase the response time, according to the fire department.
Potter explained that the department needs at least three people at the station to respond to a call out. Additionally, having a member stationed there on a regular basis who can take command as well as fulfiill firefighting duties would be prudent.
The mayor hopes to have the position filled by January, but the earlier, the better she noted.
The town is looking at hiring internally as they already have trained firefighters who could take on the role of an officer to take command in those times of need.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News