ATHABASCA – Athabasca County has started the process of overhauling its fire services and fireworks bylaws, with a proposed draft from Regional Fire Chief Travis Shalapay combining the two documents in one place.
During the Nov. 21 committee of the whole meeting, Shalapay gave councillors a sneak peek of the draft bylaw to see if anyone had concerns before it was officially presented to county council. The committee voted 8-0 — Coun. Natasha Kapitaniuk was absent — in favour of a motion to forward the draft bylaw to the Nov. 30 council meeting for first reading.
“Realistically, the fireworks bylaw was a short bylaw with a lot of material that needed to be revised,” said Shalapay. “There were attachments that didn’t need to be in the bylaw, so it was easy to convert it to a section in the fire services bylaw.”
While much of the process was administrative, there are some changes Athabasca County residents will notice. Burn permits for properties under one acre — which includes many lake lots — will no longer be issued, and the draft bylaw includes new language around the use of exploding targets and fireworks outside of private property.
“One change being proposed is looking at the prohibition of fireworks on public land, so going out on crown or county land and discharging fireworks,” said Shalapay. “We do see issues with it where folks are going into the backcountry. Our intent is to reduce the risk of wildfire, because (fireworks) do challenge that.”
The proposed bylaw also works to define and standardize the level of service different fire departments can provide. Not every department is going to be certified to the same level, but the proposed bylaw provides a consistent expectation for the volunteers.
“Up to this point, the county hasn’t set out a defined level of service for its fire services,” said Shalapy. “Cities provide a variety of different services … We really have to look at the services we want to provide, and that’s what this does for us. The bylaw has two levels: it has the base level, which is the bottom rung, and then we have the extended level.”
He compared the levels of service to a highway with two guardrails.
“We know where we need to stay in terms of service delivery, and it allows us to provide clear information to residents on what services we can provide them,” said Shalapay. “If we receive a call for a kitty stuck in a culvert, we don’t provide confined space rescue. It helps us articulate why there’s certain things we can’t do.”
Shalapay also took the opportunity to help streamline some organizational efficiencies. Currently, department fire chiefs are formalized by council, and de facto elected by popular vote within each fire hall. While the latter half is staying the same, the formal appointment will be made by administration to better reflect the reporting structure. The term ‘district fire chief’ has also largely been replaced by the ‘regional fire chief’, Shalapay’s new position that oversees all nine departments.
“In a regional model, we do have to look at how we administer and operate departments. Realistically council has always relied on the recommendation of the department for hiring chiefs. Council doesn’t do the recruitment or hiring, so it’s really a symbolical change showing that they are part of administration.”
Fire guardians will also now be appointed by the CAO to help streamline the process.
“It’s a red tape reduction, a lot of the folks we’re appointing in this role, it’s their job to be doing this. It will allow administration to better manage the position moving forward,” said Shalapay.