Last year was the busiest on record for first responders at Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Fire Rescue.
Fire Chief Dan Derby says crews responded to 1,894 calls for service, which is a 12 per cent increase over the previous year and two per cent higher than their previously busiest year in 2018 (1,864 calls).
“As our communities returned to more normal pre-pandemic activity levels, overall call volumes were up in 2022 in direct correlation with incidents (on record) pre-pandemic,” he outlines in his 2023 work plan.
Derby says the increase in emergency call-outs was predominately in response to reports of overdose.
In 2022, regional firefighters — also highly trained as first responders — attended 156 overdose calls.
He says this is consistent with their previous high of 148 in 2021.
While most of those calls originate from the downtown core, Derby says the surroundings where the overdose happens can be almost anywhere — in a public vestibule, the street, a home, even a car.
Derby says what often isn’t talked about is how first responders are coping with this type of call. Whether it becomes a fatality or a life saved, there’s a toll these intense emergencies take on the first responder psyche, especially when the call is to administer life-saving care to the same person more than once.
“The cumulative effect of exposure to these types of incidents is challenging,” Derby told the Trail Times.
There are post incident reviews, diffusing in-house, and if support needs to be escalated, Derby says other professionals are available for all members.
He also notes that the increases in first responder overdose calls are consistent with provincial trends, which are straining pre-hospital care resources.
While he wouldn’t speculate if the trend will continue, he did recognize that these challenges are not unique to Trail.
“A lot of work is happening in regards to overdose responses and the impact to first responders,” Derby added. “The fire service industry is working on some new training … we are always trying to provide resources and tools to support our firefighters (to deal with) trauma and the impacts of our work — so they don’t take the impacts home with them.”
Another challenge the regional fire department is faced with is the recruitment and retention of paid-on-call firefighters. Locally the number is down 25 members since 2021. At present, there are 65 paid-on-call firefighters at different stages of training.
Derby says there will be a recruitment drive this coming spring.
Fire loss versus value of property saved
In 2022 Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue responded to a mix of residential, commercial, industrial and wildland/interface fires with a total fire loss of $1.29 million. According to Derby’s work plan, the value of property saved neared $66 million.
Comparatively, in 2021 total fire loss was $2 million versus $116 million in property saved. The latter statistic, Derby clarified, was largely due to two significant industrial fires in 2021. Additionally, dollar loss from vehicle fires last year totaled $69,200.
He notes that 2022 structure fires were confined to the area/room of origin 90 per cent of the time.
“2022 was a calmer wildfire season with one deployment of a tender and command staff to support provincial wildfire incident in Sparwood,” Derby said. “The experience our members gain while on deployment combined with their training continues to develop our firefighter’s skills and abilities to respond to the increasing complexity of interface fire incidents we are facing.”
Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue Service was created in 1982.
Aside from Station 374 Trail, which is housed in the regional district office on Rossland Avenue, the department has fire halls in Rossland, Warfield, Genelle, Montrose, and Fruitvale.
The department is a composite fire department made up of paid-on-call and career firefighters that provide fire suppression, fire prevention services, rescue, and first responder medical services.
The fire prevention program includes public safety education for local schools, fire and life safety inspection of all public buildings, and provincially regulated fire investigations.
Firefighters train to full service NFPA 1001 Level II based on the British Columbia Structure Firefighters Training Standards, as mandated by the Office of the Fire Commissioner, provincial wildland firefighting and first responder medical service standards.
Some members have specialized technical training in high angle rope rescue, auto extrication and swift water rescue services.