Puslinch gets glimpse of master fire plan process

On Dec. 3 councillors got their first taste of the process behind the township’s upcoming master fire plan for Puslinch.

Josh Sheppard, acting deputy fire chief, commented the original intent was a presentation of the fire committee to kick this off this project, “but  because of the general interest of council, we thought we’d do this presentation for everyone.”

Steve Thurlow explained  Dillon Consulting was retained to generate a master fire plan for the township.

He said this project “will require some fairly significant decisions by council regarding the future of how you deliver fire services.”

Thurlow described the work as a comprehensive evaluation of a fire and rescue service’s current operations, staffing and service delivery – of everything the fire department does.

“The end result is the creation of a strategic, multi-year plan based on the needs and circumstances of the community.”

He said the intent is to create a strategic document to help guide fire services through the next 20 years.

Performance measures would include dispatch times; turnout time to react and prepare to respond; and the actual time for firefighters to travel from the fire station to respond to an incident.

Thurlow added his experience demonstrates that no two municipalities are the same.

“As much as their fire engines might be red, the way they delivery services may be very different.”

Thurlow added, “The plan is not going to tell the fire chief what to do tomorrow morning, but it is going to give some insight into the challenges, the strengths and weaknesses over the short and long term.

If there are areas where legislated responsibilities are not being met – there would be recommendations as to how to achieve those requirements, he said.

From a legislative perspective, municipalities have two key responsibilities, he explained.

The first is to establish a program for public education with respect to fire safety and fire prevention.

The other key aspect is other fire protection services as necessary in accordance with local needs and circumstances.

Thurlow said one of the most significant shifts in the past decade has been the move to the three lines of defence:

– public education and prevention;

– fire safety standards and enforcement; and

– emergency response/fire suppression.

“The shift has been very much to optimizing the first two lines of defence,” Thurlow said.

In addition to increasing costs for full-time resources for fire suppression services, Thurlow said there are challenges in the sustainability of volunteer firefighters particularly for daytime coverage.

The first line of defence remains smoke detectors/alarms, while next in line is home escape planning, he said.

“We educate residents to understand their role in emergency situations.”

“We know these fires happen quicker and can become significant events before the fire department arrives.”

Thurlow anticipated bringing a draft report to council in March 2015 and a final report the following month.

Councillor Susan Fielding was glad to see the unique situation of Puslinch.

“We are in the unique situation of being a rural community with two major highways (Highways 6 and 401).”

Councillor Wayne Stokley also looked forward to seeing the plan. “I think it will allow our residents to see how good a department we have.”

He added the performance measures will allow residents to get a feel for what the department can do.

Stokley explained “residents might see a response to a fire, but not really know what happens before.”

Councillor Ken Roth said the report will really help in both the short and long term, “to budget properly and make sure protection is where it has to be 20 years from now.”

When Roth asked how the public consultation would take place, Sheppard responded it would not happen until the new year.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer noted previous discussion on the optimization of the three lines of defence.

“It’s interesting that you mentioned prevention and education are two of the most important aspects.”

“While this may seem a cheeky question, but considering how important those items are, has anybody ever built a statue of a fire prevention officer?

Bulmer referred to the importance of public awareness.

“How do we make the public aware how important prevention and education are?

Fire prevention officers are heroes as well, Bulmer added

Thurlow agreed.

He pointed to an earlier consultation with Puslinch’s fire prevention officer. “I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the level of expertise and the creativity he is bringing to this department.”

He also agreed that the recognition of fire prevention officers is something the industry does not do well at.

“As an industry professional – this is all about prevention and education. If we prevent the incident in the first place, we should be able to do ourselves out of business on the supression side.”

While Thurlow agreed his statement is optimistic, he said many more incidents could be mitigated or prevented through education.

Mayor Dennis Lever was impressed with the  comprehensive nature of the master plan process.