ATHABASCA — The SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) bought in 2018 by the Grassland Fire Department must be replaced.
The brand, AVON SCBA, is only being used by one other fire department in Alberta Athabasca County Fire Chief Sheldon Schoepp found and has been involved in lawsuits including a 2018 suit brought by the City of Abbotsford in British Columbia, citing repeated failures of the equipment.
“I spoke with Chief Schoepp about the request for 12 units wondering if that was necessary and he said there's 20 members and he did feel it was a reasonable request,” interim CAO Dawn Phillips told the public works committee at their Dec. 21 meeting.
The brand is also incompatible with what the other departments across the county use so if there is a joint call there would be no way to exchange tanks with another fire department if they ran low.
“All other Athabasca County Fire Departments use SCOTT brand SCBA,” said Phillips. “Having the same brand as other departments is an advantage as members can interchange bottles on-scene. Structure fires often bring in multiple departments, so being able to interchange bottles is an asset.”
And while SCBA is mostly used in structure fires, which are rare for the busy Grassland department, they are essential equipment.
“SCBA are used mostly for structure fires,” she said. “It provides air for the firefighters when entering the structure. The integrity of these units is vital in the safety of our fire fighters.”
Without the units the fire fighters would be unable to enter the building and be forced to wait for another department to arrive.
“If a home in Grassland is on fire and there are people trapped inside, waiting for another department to respond with SCBA could cost lives,” said Phillips.
The committee was given two options: 12 SCBA tanks with 24 used cylinders meaning five years of life remaining for $37,045 or the same number of tanks and new cylinders with 10 years of life for $44,745, a difference of $7,700 for five more years of cylinder life.
“We don't approve our budget till February or March so waiting that long and having been brought forward as a safety concern and that he (Schoepp) requested I bring it forward urgently due to his concerns over safety is why I’m bringing it forward now,” said Phillips.
Committee chair, Coun. Gary Cromwell is also the Wandering River fire chief so is familiar with the equipment in question and the current issues noting the AVON SCBA system could fail for no apparent reason bolstering the safety concerns and urgency to have the units replaced.
Reeve Brian Hall noted the tanks are a replacement not an upgrade so requested the motion be made for the money to come out of the operating budget.
“That this has simply come up now as an emergency request versus (an) upgrade to the equipment, so I move to amend Coun. (Kelly) Chamzuk’s motion to clarify this comes from the 2022 operational budget,” he said.
Cromwell asked it to be kept in mind other departments will need upgrades too and the SCOTT brand of SCBA equipment isn’t interchangeable and to consider tanks allowing for a 45-minute model.
“We’re asking for SCOTT 4.5, is that the standard for the county,” he said. “I know Wandering River is trying to get a grant for next year. Currently these are not interchangeable because not all SCOTT’s are created equal. Grassland is the only department in the county currently on a 45-minute model.”
Athabasca County chose to purchase 12 SCBA units with 24 new cylinders for $44,745.