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From increasing dispatch work to hoarding: Smiths Falls fire chief on department’s 2023 highlights

Smiths Falls Fire Chief Rick Chesebrough addresses council on Feb. 26 with the department’s annual report for 2023. – Laurie Weir screengrab

Returning to a more normal line of work in 2023, the Smiths Falls Fire Department was back in full swing last year, following the COVID pandemic.

Fire Chief Rick Chesebrough reported to Smiths Falls town council’s committee of the whole on Feb. 26, outlining what they did in 2023 and projections for this year.

Chesebrough highlighted extensive training and fire prevention education, seeing some 5,300 people to share their prevention messaging.

“We were quite excited to be able to provide the level of service that we did before the pandemic,” Chesebrough said.

The Smiths Falls Fire Department is located at 77 Beckwith St. N. in Smiths Falls. – Laurie Weir photo

DISPATCH

The Smiths Falls Fire Services has performed fire dispatch for Lanark County since 2006. The Fire Dispatch Communications Centre has grown, adding in several other fire departments, including Algonquin Highlands, Beckwith Fire, Carleton Place Fire, Drummond/North Elmsley – Tay Valley Township, French River, Highlands East, Lanark Highlands, Markstay-Warren, Mississippi Mills, Montague Township, Perth, Wharncliffe, St. Charles and South Sherbrooke.

The dispatch centre went through many changes this year.

“We started the year using the Zetron Radio and ended with a new IP-based dispatch console that interfaces with all types of legacy radio, digital radios, intercom, and data applications that provide a seamless dispatch console experience,” the chief noted.

“This update will allow our dispatch centre to grow with the possibility of taking on more contracts. Into 2024 the SFDC will be taking on the task of implementing Next Generation 911 and updating our CAD system.”

The department answers 911 calls for the areas they service.

The chief said the fire service received over $1M in grants to support this new dispatch system.

“There has been great interest,” he said. “We’re well positioned for additional contracts. Those contracts are going to require staffing.”

INVESTMENTS AND REVENUES

Last year, the department invested in a number of tools that help them save lives, protect property and assets, like water/ice immersion suits, water rescue helmets, life vests, Lite Trackers for ice water rescues; and extrication tools, like a cutter, spreader, telescopic ram and battery chargers.

The department also purchased MSA composite fire helmets – a light structural helmet that is tough, small and strong.

The Smiths Falls Fire Service saw revenues of $409,651 in 2023 through its dispatch centre. They generated $227,000 through Lanark County. The external municipalities they cover through their dispatch agreements brought in more than $51,000.

The department also provides fire service protection for Drummond/North Elmsley Township ($12,093) and Rideau Lakes Township ($79,754).

FIRES

Fatal fires across the province totalled 109 last year, with 121 fatalities.

Smiths Falls had a significant fire in May last year as the fire on Old Mill Road wiped out the former water treatment facility. Damage was estimated at $2.5 million, the chief said.

The department responded to 296 calls for service last year, an increase of 23 calls over the previous year. The largest number of calls were alarm-related – or 25 per cent of the call volume.

The training division was highlighted by the chief with education and skills maintenance of about 25 members – both career and volunteer firefighters.

With new training parameters mandated by the province through the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM), this has put a “tremendous strain on our training division and staff,” Chesebrough said. “Through exceptional planning and commitment of our firefighters, just over 2,300 hours of training was received.”

The chief said he is “extremely proud” of each member of the department for their dedication and contribution to protecting the community.

FIRE PREVENTION

An “outstanding” effort of fire prevention activities included 313 inspections last year, and public education activities reached 5,320 people. There were re-inspections for compliance, complaint/request inspections, business licensing, smoke and carbon monoxide inspections, fire safety plan review and approvals, OFM orders issued, court appearances, and fire searches included.

The chief noted that the fire department prevents fires and injuries using three lines of defense: public safety education, fire safety standards and enforcement and emergency response.

HOARDING

Chesebrough said an alarming situation the department was called to recently involved hoarding.

“I know council is well aware of the number of calls that we’ve received regarding homelessness and problems with individuals with cognitive or mental disabilities,” he said. “We had a recent situation (Monday) that resulted in one person being transported to hospital. It was due to some contents being contained in the building.”

He said it drives home the fact that the more home inspections they can do, and the more accessible to the public they are, the fewer calls they’ll get.

“We’ve been working with a number of agencies, all very supportive. Typically, this is not a fire department issue but we were brought in because it’s a lifesaving issue,” Chesebrough said.

They’ve been involved in several group discussions to better manage this situation so it’s a “one off and not the norm.”

OUTSTANDING YEAR

“Overall, it’s been an outstanding year for all three divisions of the fire service – with prevention, training and logistics,” Chesebrough said.

“They do an outstanding job, they’re committed to their community, they’re engaged and they seek more knowledge, more training,” he said. “That’s something that the community should be proud of.”

Council touted their mutual feelings of admiration and thanks to the department, saying they could all sleep better at night knowing they are so well protected.

CONCERNS

Coun. Peter McKenna asked about the agreement with Rideau Lakes, and if their building of a new fire station in Lombardy (closer to Smiths Falls) would mean the agreement would come to an end.

The chief said he wants to speak with the new chief (Gene Richardson, formerly of Lanark Highlands), and he said they’re hoping they can work something out.

“From a personal standpoint, I think that the service being provided is both vital and complements Rideau Lakes,” Chesebrough said. “They’ve got a fairly substantial area that they cover, so I’m hopeful that through talks and negotiations we can maintain what we currently have or look at an augmented process.”

Coun. Dawn Quinn said the hoarding situation is a huge issue in town, as she sits on a committee that deals with that.

“People have no idea how much right here in the Town of Smiths Falls,” she said. “There needs to be a lot of work put into that … thank you for leading that.”

A more detailed report from the fire chief will be made available through the town’s website and social media channels.

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