The annual report for Winkler Fire Department (WFD) reports city firefighters responded to 222 emergency calls in 2023, a slight 1 per cent increase from the previous year.

Fire incidents (72), motor vehicle accidents (61) and false alarms (63) accounted for the bulk of the calls. Many of the 2023 false alarms were due to newly constructed buildings coming online with their fire detection and sprinkler systems.

Chief Richard Paetzold says a high number of the fires they dealt with could have turned out much worse.

"That number of 72, those are all ones that if no action was taken, either by the occupant or the fire department, could have turned out to be big fires. You could break down these different calls into so many areas which we can do if we're seeing a trend. Then we get more defined on what type of incidents, so we can do some public education based on, you know, if we're seeing some significant areas of where things are happening."

Looking closer at that statistic, the report shows emergency calls within the city actually increased by 4 per cent, however, calls in the RM of Stanley saw a 4 per cent decrease.

There were no outstanding causes of residential or commercial occupancy fires last year.

The department maintained an impressive average response time of 4 minutes and 4 seconds within city limits in 2023. Calls in the RM of Stanley were met with an average response time of 6 minutes and 26 seconds. Those figures surpass the countrywide standard per the National Fire Protection Association 1720, which has set the minimum response time for paid-on-call departments at 9 minutes for urban and 14 minutes for rural areas.

Paetzold says that's why members keep training.

"It's very intentional in how we even run [what] I call our incident command structure. We're wanting to make sure that we have consistent response strategies. Because we're a paid-on-call system, we never know the combination of firefighters that are going to turn out. We manage by average total number per call, and we're always striving to keep that average number at 14 members per call. That's what dictates our trigger to hire more. It's worked so far."

Tactics and equipment purchases are based on the needs of a changing community said Paetzold. He feels the department is in a good place heading into 2024.

"I feel very confident we have the staffing, and we have the training, and our response time is good. All around I believe we're prepared for the future for the next number of years. We finished a new-recruit class this past year. If it would go similar to years past [when] we've only done recruiting every seven years, I'm hoping that would be the same. That we don't have to worry about hiring more people for another seven years."

The WFD employs a total of 42 staff. Among its 25 firefighters including 9 new recruits, the average length of service is 16 years.  

~With files from Pam Fedack~