Fire Chief speaks to Saugeen Shores Men's Probus on a variety of subjects
by Sandy Lindsay
February 7, 2017
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In his capacity of Saugeen Shores Fire Chief, Phil Eagleson accredits his 'volunteers' with " ... dedication and commitment to the service and the community".
Eagleson was speaking at the Saugeen Shores Men's Probus Club on Tuesday, February 7th where he was introduced as the recipient of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs Recruitment and Retention Award.
John Kyles said that Eagleson had earned the award in 2011 because Saugeen Shores had improved its volunteer retention rate to 100 per cent .
He has also spearheaded a Junior Firefighters program for elementary school students that has seen a dramatic rise in popularity to where there is now a waiting list to register.
More recently, in 2013, Eagleson was awarded a Fellowship to Harvard University in Cambridge to take part in the program 'Senior Executives in State and Local Government'.
Fire Chief Phil Eagleson off to Harvard
(Saugeen Times file photo)
The 19-day intensive program focused on relationships between citizens and government, analyzing policy options and examining the ethical and special responsibilities of exercising leadership. In the program, Eagleson was one of only four Fellowships and was the only one from Canada.
At the Tuesday meeting, Eagleson said that he wanted to cover a broad range of topics from the Fire Service volunteers, the Water Rescue plan, the 911 System, the Defibrillator initiative and the new Community Strategic 20-year Plan.
"Starting with the Fire Service, we have an incredible fire department out of two stations, one in Port Elgin and one in Southampton, with 60 firefighters who respond. We are so incredibly fortunate to have a very stable group of volunteers," said Eagleson, "and it's really the volunteers who deserved that award from the Association of Fire Chiefs."
"We have not hired in over 10 years in Saugeen Shores," he continued. "As everyone knows, volunteers today are hard to get but even harder to retain and keep interested in the job. There are, in fact, volunteer stations across Canada that are closing every week and, in the GTA, they are going to composite stations that add considerably in cost. We are so lucky to have a stable group of volunteers, dedicated and committed to their community, but there is also stable employment in Saugeen Shores and, therefore, we also have to credit our major employer (Bruce Power)."
Eagleson went on to compare the10-year retention to other municipalities, such as the village of Paisley which hired three times each year over the same 10 year period.
"Bruce Power works on a five shift rotation and, therefore at any time, we have four-fifths of our volunteers in town and ready to serve the community in a first response capacity," he explained. "Of the 60 volunteers, 60 per cent work at Bruce Power and the others are employed in town and not outside the area."
"This stability of our volunteers enables us to become highly skilled and trained and add new equipment. With centrally located fire halls, our response times are great in both areas and are extremely cost effective with only three full-time employees that are paid. While they are volunteers, they do received a small monetary compensation when called out but it doesn't even cover their expenses, such as their personal vehicle usage, fuel, babysitters, etc."
He also explained that the Fire Service had reduced its fleet by three trucks. "Fire trucks are terribly expensive investments and depreciate to no value. Over the last five years, we have consolidated what the vehicles do for us without losing capability."
"One thing we are also very proud of are our antique vehicles - a 1929 Chevrolet that was the first pumper in Bruce County, a 1939 Ford and a 1949 truck. We hope to make a home for them this year in Southampton as part of the Rotary Club Splash Pad project. It will be a storage building with glass doors so that the public can see these vehicles that are a part of our heritage. The Rotary Splash Pad also has a fire theme so it will be good to show the trucks off as part of the park."
"We aren't without our challenges however," Eagleson points out. "Cancer rates are three times higher for firefighters than the general public. They are exposed to combustible substances that are terrible. Fifty years ago, a house had oak, hardwood and natural products. Today, everything is synthetic and when they burn it produces smoke that is absorbed through the skin and we try to do everything to protect our volunteers."
He also said that Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been a challenge and that last year was the worst. "Abnormal events cause abnormal reactions and we are trying to deal with that."
Fire fighters are called out on pagers that are 40 years old but, now, with cell phones, they can be contacted more immediately. They answer approximately 200 calls per year with 20 being water rescue.
A number of years ago, water rescue services were identified as lacking due to Chantry Island popularity, increased beach usage with increased tourism and increased boating but water rescue had not kept pace. "Everything related to water rescue is very expensive and to burden the tax base is not realistic given the number of calls. Therefore, we looked to the Coast Guard Auxiliary and aggressively trained, but could not have done it in Saugeen Shores without the Marine Heritage Society."
"They have a great boat, the Peerless, that is well-maintained and being used every day and it's always there in peak condition. This has kept our costs to a minimum and, in fact, we have not used a single dollar of taxpayer money for water rescue. The most challenging part is having to say no to a call, given the violent weather sometimes of Lake Huron."
The geographic area covered is large running from Bruce Power to Lyle Island in the north and the next marine resources are Kincardine and Tobermory. Saugeen Shores also has two rigid inflatable boats that can be used.
According to Eagleson, the 911 system in Bruce County and Ontario is more than 35 years old and needs updated technology.
"You must know where you are in Bruce County, for 911 to work. If someone doesn't know the address, the operator cannot pinpoint you. While cell phones have chip technology, we do not have the equipment to pinpoint where the caller is. That's not good enough. The technology is there but we are not up to date with it. No technology is integrated and there are a lot of layers of government that stop us from making the changes to technology. Bruce County was in fact instrumental in getting the 911 system off the ground in Ontario in 1986 and does the mapping for the county."
Eagleson is now co-chair of a committee to study the problem with a government grant and the support of Bruce Power. "We want our area to be a leader in changing this technology."
February is Heart & Stroke month and there are over 60 defibrillators in Saugeen Shores with another five being installed. There is a community map available on the town website that sets out all the locations for public access defibrillators. "The thing with defibrillators is to know where they are. There is only a six minute window in the case of a heart attack and, with a defibrillator, you can buy time for the victim."
Chief Eagleson explains the defibrillator locations map
(L) Bert Kuntz helps demonstrate the defibrillator application
Eagleson then demonstrated the user-friendly defibrillator that is available. "People are reluctant to use one and are afraid of public liability. In Ontario however, there are two acts to protect against that fear ... one is the Good Samaritan Act and the other is the Chayce McEachern Act that says 'if you sue a public defibrillator to help you are completely protected'
"There are two new initiatives being undertaken this month ... an interactive map on-line that pinpoints where the defibrillators are and an active map that pinpoints a location and the six closest defibrillators. In Saugeen Shores, there is one in every building where a town employee works but we want to see one in every public building. I hope one day, they will be as common as a fire extinguisher."
The Fire Service will help a group acquire one, will help with training and with maintenance.
Eagleson has also now taken on the position of Project Lead for the new Community Strategic 20-year Plan for Saugeen Shores.
"This is a 20-year Community Strategic Plan that I hope everyone takes the time to fill out the survey for. This is a 'community' strategic plan ... not a corporate plan, not a Council strategic plan ... it is a 'community strategic plan' and it is so important for the town.
The Steering Committee includes myself, the CAO and give others. Then there is a broader working group of some 40 people from organizations throughout the community.
We have so many plans out there ... a Waterfront Plan, a Parks and Trails Plan, a Police Business Plan ... all these 'plans' steer staff in different directions and, therefore, we need an overall Strategic Plan to get everyone coming together.
We need to determine which plans are priority and create a road map for 20 years. Should we focus on ... will this be a retirement community? ... a tourist destination? ... is our waterfront the most important thing? should it be a farming community?
We don't know and we have never fully answered the questions. The plan will be around for 20 years with four year updates knowing that councils change and we can take a new look at it.
We need your input now and I am begging the community to take part in this survey . There are about 17 questions and open to more input . An expert consultant will compile the answers and I can't say how important it is to acquire that input.
If you are a visitor, if you plan on retiring here, if you live on the outskirts, you can answer the Community Survey to give us the broadest vision. We really need that input.
It's a road map for the future in Saugeen Shores."
Bert Kuntz, (a retired fire chief), thanks Saugeen Shores Fire Chief Phil Eagleson
Bert Kuntz, worked as an advisor to the Fire Marshall's Office and, upon moving to Saugeen Shores had a close relationship with the local Fire Department. In later years, he had the opportunity to help create a Master Fire Plan for the community. "I cannot say enough of how we can be extremely proud of what we have here in Saugeen Shores and I will put our Fire Department up against any volunteer Fire Service in this province."
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Tuesday, February 07, 2017