A good year for St. Albert fire department

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Fires and collisions have been fewer, less severe

St. Albert firefighters have little to be upset about when looking back on how the year has gone for the department.

Fire chief Ray Richards said there have been fewer fires and collisions with less severity when compared with the year before, and when compared with cities the same size as St. Albert.

“I think 2015 was very positive for us in many ways,” he said. “It was a good year overall.”

In terms of getting out there and fighting fires, there’s been less to do this year than in years past. The department responded to 108 fire calls in 2012, and just three years later that number is sitting at just 55.

The dollar-value of those fires has actually increased to about $1.5 million, so there’s a higher cost of the damage associated with those fires, but Richards said that’s not really a very good indicator as it isn’t adjusted for inflation in property costs.

“The fire losses we’re seeing is definitely larger, but that’s just because if it’s a single-family dwelling, they’re just more expensive these days,” he said. “Replacing them costs more.”

He credits the reduction in fire calls to the residents of this community, who he described as being very safety-conscious when compared to those in other municipalities.

“Even in our oldest areas of the city, we don’t experience some of the problems that large centres like Edmonton and Calgary have,” Richards said. “We have very conscientious residents.”

This is not to say there’s not room for improvement. He points to the very high number of vandalism and arson-related fires over the past decade – nearly one-quarter of fire calls – as being the most significant area where improvements could be made.

“A quarter of our fires could truly, easily be preventable,” he said. “The rest of the fires are pretty typical for a city of our size,” related to mechanical and electrical malfunctions.

In terms of safety on the roadways – fire departments typically spend as much time doing rescue operations related to collisions as they do fighting fires – it has also been a positive year.

There have been fewer collisions overall, he said, and the collisions firefighters have responded to have been by and large less severe – especially on St. Albert Trail.

Richards said he believes this reduction has been in no small part due to improvements made to traffic on the trail – more left-hand turn signals have resulted in far fewer head-on collisions, which tend to be among the more severe kinds of collisions.

This reduction in turn frees up the department’s resources to address other matters.

“It does mean there’s a bit of a slower wait in those intersections, but if it’s safer and you’re not tying up (emergency) crews and getting people injured, I think that’s really positive,” he said.

Looking forward to the new year, Richards said the message he hopes St. Albert residents will get is that they need to be very careful with any fires they’re burning – whether it’s a candle, a wood-stove or an outdoor fire pit – and that mechanical and electrical devices are properly maintained and serviced.

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Doug Neuman