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Concern raised over availability of firefighters in Walsh

Posted on January 25, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

By Anna Smith

A letter was sent by a Walsh resident to Cypress County in regards to the potential response times in the event anything were to happen in the hamlet.

The resident, Geoff Shoesmith, included in his letter that he recently noticed that there was a number of volunteers on the Cypress fire team who had left, which caused him to be more deeply concerned regarding the state of the current department in his home hamlet.

Shoesmith said in his letter that he was informed of the current members, and as far as he can see, he does not know of any members who currently reside within the Hamlet itself, which made him concerned for response times.

“The first point I am making here is that Walsh with its 30 or so homes and surrounding rural homes, farms and ranches and families with a perfectly equipped fire hall will be waiting […] for first responders,” said Shoesmith. “Quick response times are monumental in keeping grass fires small and emergencies under control. This is why we have small volunteer-based fire departments in the first place.”

Shoesmith was previously a member of the Walsh Volunteer Fire Department, but was suspended “without warning or requirement parameters” for not attending enough practices, which at the time he felt did not contain enough actual practise, and as such he only attended a few practices a year.

He has since re-applied to become a firefighter again, but has not received a response.

“I have been given no responsible reason for not being reinstated on the Walsh Fire Department other than that they are not ‘accepting’ any applicants for a ‘paid on call firefighter,’” said Shoesmith. “If that is what our fire departments have become, the council needs to take a serious look at who is running things and in my opinion the poor and very dangerous choices they are making (are) putting myself and all other ratepayers and their families at serious risk.”

“We need to get back to the basics and that starts with strong local volunteer-based fire departments,” said Shoesmith in his letter.

While it is true that the station, like many rural fire stations in Alberta, does struggle with recruitment, said Director of Municipal Services Kim Dalton, the station is in line with many of the other stations in Cypress County, and all the members assigned to the station do live within the Walsh response area.

“It’s not unlike up in Hilda; with the Hilda Fire Department, most people don’t live in the hamlet,” said Dalton. 

Cypress has sought to combat this with a regional approach to fire and call management, explained Emergency Services Coordinator Jason Linton, where should they feel that there isn’t a swift enough response from the local department, fellow firefighters from the neighbouring zones will be dispatched to respond.

Many of their firefighters do work within the city during the day, which could lead to potential issues, said Dalton, but the regional approach ensures that they can call from across the county to ensure safe and adequate staffing for any event.

“Let’s just say on your typical grassfire, we will have two stations responding to a larger event. And so it’s not always one station that responds, it’s usually a collaborative effort,” said Dalton. If the station working solely alone, he would consider these concerns more at the forefront, but with the current approach, Dalton believes the potential issue is well addressed.

“As a regional fire service, we do have a duty officer on 24/7,” said Linton. “And within two minutes, if the officer doesn’t see that the appropriate resources and staffing levels are responding, then we will draw upon the next service.”

A report in regards to emergency services, including updated response times, is currently in the works, said Dalton, and will be presented to Council in the near future, and he hopes this will better address some of the concerns presented to the County.

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