Firefighter training standardized

NANAIMO – New guidelines establishe minimum safety levels for paid and volunteer firefighters.

A new training guidebook could help firefighters train quickly to prevent injuries or deaths.

The Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook was sparked  by the death of Chad Schapansky, a Clearwater, B.C., volunteer firefighter killed fighting a restaurant fire in 2004. The incident highlighted the need for minimum training standards for all firefighters to ensure their safety when attacking a fire from inside a building, dealing with hazardous materials or other dangerous tasks.

B.C. fire chiefs, fire training officers and the fire commissioner office collaborated on the playbook to revise training standards set out in 2003.

Gordon Anderson, B.C. fire commissioner, said the playbook focuses training on minimum standards.

“Previously the standard was the (National Fire Protection Association) standard itself, in its entirety, which is a very far-reaching and wide, in scope, document and what it essentially did is include all types of training,” Anderson said. “Whether or not you actually provide certain types of service, you’d still be bound by that training standard.”

Safety is the primary concern, but benefits of standardized certification also include transferable personnel skills between fire departments.

Craig Richardson, Nanaimo fire chief, said municipal departments won’t be affected much because of the levels of continual training provided to full-time firefighters, but there will be some pressure to get volunteer or paid-on-call department staff trained up.

“Where there’ll be an impact is on Protection Island, where they’re operating without full-time staff or are in a delayed response until full-time staff get there,” Richardson said.

Rural paid-on-call departments also will be spending more money on training. Certification means incurring fees for writing tests and having them evaluated, but there are options for how the training is carried out.

John Marmot, Lantzville Fire Department deputy chief, said much of its training can be done in-house and in co-operation with Parksville Volunteer Fire Department to keep costs down. Lantzville’s 27 paid-on-call firefighters can do most of the theory work at home.

“These guys then get a certificate at the end of it, which I think is good and it’s good for their resumés as well,” Marmot said.

Ron Gueulette, Cranberry Volunteer Fire Department chief, said his 35 firefighters are doing online training offered through the Justice Institute of B.C., but there are there are 33 exams to cover and just writing each exam costs $25. For a fire department that normally budgets $10,000 a year for training it’s a big expense.

“You go through that pretty fast,” Gueulette said.