Making the grade: Merritt Fire Dept improves upon assessment
A recent assessment by the Fire Underwriters Survey found the Merritt Fire Department is better equipped to fight fires despite its small size and limited funding, City of Merritt Fire Chief Dave Tomkinson says.
The survey looks at the city's infrastructure and its fire department to determine two separate fire protection grades: the dwelling grade, which looks at residential firefighting capacity, and the public classification, which is for commercial buildings and industry.
The ratings are then used by insurance companies in their formulas for determining fire insurance premiums.
The dwelling grade ranges from five, which is unprotected, to one, which is the best possible protection. Within city limits, the dwelling grade raised from 3A to a two, and outside the city (but within the department's jurisdiction based on agreements with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District), the grade rose from a four to a 3B - meaning both have better coverage than the last time the area was surveyed.
Outside the city, that dwelling protection grade also means people with residential fire protection could save on their premiums in the future, Tomkinson said.
"That could be a 10 to 15 per cent savings," he said. "For someone who pays $1,200 in fire insurance, they can theoretically save just under a couple hundred dollars. They've had to do nothing, the City of Merritt has made some improvements, and they will reap some benefits."
The fire protection grade for public buildings and industry falls on a scale of 10 to one, again with a score of one being the highest level of protection possible. Within city limits, the public grade rose from six to five, which Tomkinson said that rating puts Merritt's fire station on the same fire protection level as other cities similar in population size that have larger forces and budgets than Merritt's.
"We are on par with departments that are spending a lot more money operationally," he said. "The improvements we've made are significant, and the grading that we received for a community our size is quite significant."
Tomkinson said the biggest improvement the department made since the last survey in 2006 is with the work experience program, which recruits five firefighters from fire academies anywhere in Canada for a 10-month, live-in work experience.
Other improvements include more fire inspections, the purchase of a ladder truck, and the designation of a Fire Prevention Officer and prevention outreach programs.
"That's public education that never used to happen in the department. We're in schools and doing things constantly, now."
Recommendations from the survey include purchasing another fire engine, increasing the firefighting force,
"Some things are going to be really tough for us, like to increase our firefighting force," he said. "We're recruiting volunteer firefighters all the time, and there's not as much interest as we would hope. We don't have training facilities right now. We don't have a burn building, so we have to out of town to Kamloops or Maple Ridge to acquire that."
Tomkinson said the most pressing issue is the limited space at the current fire hall, which the city is looking to rectify in the next two years by adding a truck bay, living quarters for the work experience firefighters, and decontamination areas.
"We have a conceptual idea of what we want," he said. "We've made a big improvement and we've worked really hard to get there. Now, our focus is to make sure we have a facility that we can use for the next 10 or 20 years."