Councils for the Town of Altona and Municipality of Rhineland are moving forward in offering their communities the uppermost level of fire protection.

The move comes following a presentation by Fire Chief Greg Zimmerman outlining the recommendations listed in the Hazard Analysis and Risk Management paper which were formed over years of research headed up by Manitoba's Office of the Fire Commissioner and Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization. The recently released document outlines three levels of service required for fire fighting along with the training and equipment related to each level, with the goal of helping departments and municipalities better manage their risk when fire crews are called out.

Once completed, the move will bring the department in line with the top service level as outlined in the provincial paper, allowing members to tackle larger-scale incidents like commercial and industrial fires.While a portion of Altona/Rhineland Emergency Services members already has their Level 2 certification, Altona and Rhineland officials have agreed to split the $7,000 cost to have the remaining firefighters earn that training. Once completed, the move will bring the department in line with the top service level as outlined in the provincial paper, allowing members to tackle larger-scale incidents like commercial and industrial fires.

Don Wiebe, reeve for the Municipality of Rhineland, says Council endorses this extra training and will approve the expense, included in its 2020/21 budget for the department, at its regular meeting Wednesday, February 12.

"We as a council thought no, we can't just have a level one service," he said.

That basic level, as described by Chief Zimmerman, would essentially involve firefighters standing on the street shooting water in the direction of fire while trying to keep neighbours' homes from burning.

Wiebe adds Council considered a number of factors when making the decision, including being able to offer an increased service level to ratepayers.

Liability played into the equation as well.

"We want to be seen as having done our due diligence in preparing our firefighters to handle those situations," noted Wiebe.

Council is now working with the Plum Coulee and Gretna fire departments in order to bring this level of service to the entire municipality.

Altona town council has also set aside the added expense in its upcoming budget for the department.

Mayor Al Friesen says Council was unanimous in agreeing the investment was quite small in order to give firefighters the best tools possible.

"Money isn't laying around, we needed to find the money because it wasn't in our original budget, but we'll create the room in the budget for that," said Friesen, adding the group felt the fire chief made a compelling case. "And we feel that the people that live in Altona have an expectation that we equip our firefighters to do the appropriate job and when faced with the situation of a fire, that we give them the tools to engage it fully," said Friesen.

Additionally, the mayor feels a full-service fire department could produce economic spin-offs for the community, such as helping to attract and retain new business.

"We draw attention to our clean streets, nice parks, and our good schools but don't necessarily think about something like can a fire department do the job that is expected of them?" he explained. "Most communities have a fire department, but to deal with something like (a fire) at an industrial or manufacturing facility requires different skills."

Friesen also pointed out that businesses can see reduced insurance rates if they set up in a community with a fully trained and equipped fire department.

According to Fire Chief Zimmerman, Altona/Rhineland Emergency Services has worked its way up to meeting 85 percent of the criteria for that top level of service, thanks to the support from both councils over the years.

Besides the $7,000 cost, he notes the extra training comes down to eight additional blocks of instruction time over the current Level 1 certification. Moving forward, Zimmerman says the work will be incorporated into the department's regular firefighter training.

Related article: New Training/Equipment Guidelines Being Mulled For Altona/Rhineland Fire Dept