Thursday, January 18, 2007

Master Fire Plan

We (Montague, that is) have all heard a lot about the Master Fire Plan. How many of us have actually read it? Since some of the issues raised in this comprehensive review of the Montague Fire Department came up at the last meeting of Council, now might be a good time to take a look.

TDPC encourages all residents to download and read the full document. It's a very thorough and well-written report and it offers a great insight into the inner workings of a fire department. For reasons of space, I'm not going to go into the body of the document here, but focus instead on the conclusions and recommendations.

First off, the primary conclusion of the report is this:
This review clearly indicates that the Township of Montague is delivering fire protection services in accordance with its needs and circumstances as required by the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.

There is much else positive written about the department and its performance. In the currently charged climate, let's all keep that in mind. As the report says, any review will identify areas for improvement and this is how organizations do improve and grow. Therefore, looking at the recommendations for changes is not an indication of any major shortcoming, but rather a search for ways to do things even better. However, the report makes no less than 31 recommendations, some of which I think bear discussion.

There are several recommendations in the area of the legislative framework for the department; apparently the bylaws and regulations we have are outdated and refer to outdated Ontario statutes. Bringing them up to date would seem to be a fairly common sense idea. In the process of revisiting the bylaws, though, Council will be faced with issues such as defining the list of services to be provided by the department. If and when this comes up for discussion I think it's worthy of public consultation.

The report recommends the appointment of a Deputy Fire Chief and suggests that an appropriate selection and promotion process be created for this first, and subsequent, appointment. Again, this makes perfect sense to me. There should always be someone available to deputize for the Chief, and there should be a clear succession plan if possible.

The major issues of concern to me are the recommendations around management of the department. It's clear from the report that although the VFD is doing all the right things, in many cases they are doing them informally, with record-keeping being of mixed quality. The Chief's office is maintained in his home rather than on township property. Some records are kept there, others at the fire station. Not all policies and procedures are available to the members of the department. Post-incident reporting is not formalized. The report recommends a number of changes to tighten things up, formalize procedures and bring the administrative side of the department in line with provincial norms. I actually found it difficult to believe that such an important office as the Fire Chief's could be allowed to be maintained off township property, and this certainly gives me pause for thought as to what the previous Council was up to.

So, while it's clear that operationally the department is offering us the protection we all appreciate and sleep easier for, there is room for improvement in management and administration. I personally would like to see Council take a firm grip of this situation and add this final polish to the department as soon as possible. In the end we have a VFD to be proud of, and we can be prouder still when it becomes the absolute best it can be.

Again, I encourage everyone to download and read the report. It's your Fire Department and your Council. Stay informed.