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Essex Council adopts Community Risk Assessment and Fire Master Plan with 24 recommendations

By Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Essex Free Press   

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Apr. 13, 2024, Essex, Ont. – Essex Fire & Rescue achieved 85 percent of the recommendations implemented in its Fire Master Plan that expired in 2021.

Since May of 2023, Essex Fire & Rescue has been working with Loomex Group on creating a new Fire Master Plan and Community Risk Assessment. After nearly a year of engagement, the new document was presented to Essex Council and adopted during a special meeting hosted on April 2, with 24 recommendations attached.

A focus of the document detailed ways to add to the administrative team in part to provide for more response to emergencies during the daytime and recommended a new facility for Station 3 in Harrow. The Master Plan looks ahead five to ten-years, and is used for long-term strategic planning. The documents will guide the Fire Department and Council as to where things should be headed and how to best achieve the results.

The Fire Master Plan also ensures compliance with the Fire Protection and Prevention Act and other pieces of legislation.


In Terms of Community Risk Assessment, Chris Burke, Fire and Safety Specialist at Loomex Group, noted the document identifies and examines the threats the community is most likely to face.

A team visited the area a number of times to identify risks from a fire service perspective, in addition to hazards and risk analysis for emergency management programs.

The Community Risk Assessment will provide information the municipality can use to make decisions about fire protection, Burke explained.

Nine areas of key concern were assessed through community profiles, from geographic and demographic, to past loss and event history. This was to identify what is most likely to occur in the community and predict potential serious consequences, from rare to almost certain, and consequence levels, from insignificant to catastrophic.

When looking at Essex, top risks identified included a severe weather event, fire in residential occupancies, fire in vulnerable occupancies, and road and highway incidents.

In speaking to each point, Burke provided recommendations that could be implemented – such as training or public education – to assist Essex Fire in preventing emergencies and how to approach each type of situation.

It also includes Risk Treatment Plans (RTP). He explained RTPs are created to help the Fire Department identify an approach on an evidence-based process and consider outcomes and actions in identifying the risk assessment. The Risk Treatment Plan may recommend training, service delivery agreements, resource allocation, or service level changes.

Burke added the Community Risk Assessment should be reviewed and updated annually. In addition, he recommended developing a process to collect and maintain data in keeping the document current. The documents should be used for future strategic planning.

The Community Risk Assessment was used to help develop the Fire Master Plan.

The Master Plan, Burke explained, details current and anticipated fire protection needs.

It also recommends strategies to protect lives and property by enhancing public education, code enforcement, and fire suppression services.

The 24 recommendations – determined through stakeholder engagement and data collection and analysis – were presented for consideration. Each recommendation includes whether it is mandatory, if it will need Council approval, if it will have a budget impact, and when it should be implemented.

In terms of administrative changes, recommendations include changing the administrative assistant from part-time to full-time.

It is also recommended hiring a full-time support firefighter after the contract for the current part-time position ends. This would help combat the lack of volunteer responders during daytime hours, which is experienced nation-wide in many fire services.

In terms of fire prevention, it also recommended appointing a full-time training/prevention officer to dedicate half of their work hours to manage the Department’s fire prevention division and perform suppression duties during daytime hours. This will also help ensure compliance with training requirements.

The Town is meeting the minimum standard, he noted, but spoke of the need to meet certification standards through the Province and being more aggressive in conducting vulnerable inspections regularly. It is also about adding a daytime available firefighter for effective response.

Terry Gervais, Vice President, Government Services Division, said Council should look at prevention positions as an investment. “When the firetrucks go out the door, it is a very costly venture for the municipality,” Gervais said. In doing more proactive investment for more inspections, and as the community grows there will be more pressure put on current prevention.

“Safer buildings not only help your residents get out, but also protects your firefighters as well.” There were four recommendations in regards to by-laws, including having the Chief complete an annual review of the Town’s Establishing and Regulatory By-Law to verify it remains current and to update all fire service by-laws to ensure they are current and applicable.

To engage stakeholders, a survey was issued to local businesses and residents, Burke noted results showed out of a score of ten, that Essex Fire received a score of 9.8 in terms of fire responses, 9.3 in response to natural disasters, 9.2 for medical responses, 8.9 for vehicular collision, and 8.4 for fire code enforcement.

The code enforcement grade, he said, is still very high in terms of a positive review. In many municipalities, enforcement typically results in a negative experience for residents as they can come with adjustments.

As a result, it was recommended the Chief review the results to identify ways Essex Fire can provide more value to Essex residents and businesses, and review the results of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis to determine which of operations should be updated to incorporate suggestions.

Through an overview of Emergency Management, it was recommended Essex should assign an individual outside the department to service as either the primary or alternate Community Emergency Management Coordinator, and the position holder should continue organizing annual emergency management training and exercises for the Essex Municipal Emergency Control Group.

In looking at health and safety, Burke recommended having the Fire Chief form a committee to develop and manage a fitness program, and explore the possibility of forming partnerships with local fitness facilities to provide firefighters with better access to equipment.

Recommendations for service levels include reviewing and updating Essex Fire’s medical tiered response agreement, and keeping track of calls for advanced services. If there are significant calls for advanced services not provided, a report should be prepared for Council consideration to update the Department’s list.

In terms of training, Burke recommended the Fire Chief should develop a process for having para-trainers assist with the Department’s training program, establish a training committee to help plan and implement the Department’s training program, and explore opportunities that allow officers to complete training and obtain certifications beyond what the Department currently offers.

A recommendation to improve performance standards will have the Fire Chief continue monitoring the Department’s effective response force to determine whether the Department needs to increase its staffing levels, specifically during the daytime.

The Master Plan also recommends developing a report for Council that recommends replacing Station 3 in Harrow with a new fire station at 2225 Roseborough Road, to share space with the Harrow Soccer Complex.

The current facility, Burke said, “It has outlived its size, it’s cramped, it’s crowded, it’s not providing the AODA compliant regulations that speak to access to the fire station.”

In all the sites looked at, the Harrow Soccer Complex is the preferred site, he said. Its size, parking, and response grid are all things that make it a suitable location.

Mayor Sherry Bondy noted she is not convinced that is the best location, and asked if a report will come to Council on the location selection. She added the call volume supports a new station in Harrow.

Burke added the report notes observations for the three potential sites considered regarding shortfalls and pluses. Accessibility and size of the lots were some of the concerns with the other properties.

In terms of water supply, it was recommended the Fire Chief should ensure that the Department’s tanker shuttle service meets all applicable fire service guidelines.

In looking at Asset Management, it was recommended having the Fire Chief prepare a report for Council’s consideration and approval for continued investment in the Department’s radiocommunications equipment and indicate whether the Department should upgrade to fire-quality radios. There should also be an attempt to form partnerships with external agencies to share the costs of radio purchases.

In answering Councillor Kim Verbeek’s question regarding when the Town purchased radio equipment, Fire Chief Jason Pillon noted money was set aside in the 2023 Budget. It is held up with the City of Windsor in looking at possible upgrades to infrastructure and cell towers. Conversations are ongoing, and there is optimism something will happen in 2024. He added there is a plan to move towards using fire-grade radios.

Burke said “this was a tremendous group of people to work with, both from the municipality and the Fire Service. We got everything we asked for, all the data. A lot of municipalities are a little shy and reluctant to give you data, because they know they are not meeting obligations.”

He said from the corporate and fire side, the dialogue provided for an excellent opportunity to create an assessment, which allowed them to make observations in a prudent, responsible, and fiscal manner.

Bondy was not surprised to hear the comment.

“Our fire team is a very strong one,” she said.

Councillor Hammond did want to see dollar figures attached to the plan, but did recognize the need to invest in the Fire Department.

Director of Community Service, Jake Morassut, noted that adopting the report does not mean all the recommendations will be implemented right away. Any staffing or budget impacts will come back to Council for approval.

Councillor Katie McGuire-Blais said she had hoped the report would offer more guidance, though Fire admin is already implementing many items, such as recruitment of volunteer firefighters.

Burke responded the process Essex Fire uses now for recruitment is excellent. It’s about moving forward and being strategic in long-term planning to ensure as things change, obligations are met that come forward.

Essex Fire is in the recruitment process currently, looking to hire 12 volunteer firefighters. Around 100 individuals applied, 91 wrote the written test, and over 50 moved on to physical testing.

McGuire-Blais wondered about starting an auxiliary firefighter crew.

Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley also asked about the boundaries where each of the three Fire Stations respond. He noted Harrow has a large area.

Pillon noted on structural fires, Station 2 is called if it is close to the border. Station 3 is quick to respond. It is something that is monitored regularly.

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