Last year was challenging for Bayham Fire Department, according to Fire Chief and Emergency Services Coordinator Harry Baranik, who reviewed the 2020 annual fire and emergency services report during a virtual council meeting on Thursday, May 20.
Firefighters adjusted to a new fire chief, a global pandemic, as well as responded to increased calls for service, including more fire and motor vehicle collision responses.
Bayham hired Chief Baranik in early August, following the retirement of seven-year chief Randy White.
Bayham Fire and Emergency Services responded to 193 calls for service throughout 2020. This marks the second highest amount of calls in the past nine years, with 168 calls the previous year and 204 in 2018.
Of those calls, 33% (64) were medical; 19% (36) were fire; and 16% (30) were motor vehicle collisions. This differs from 2019, where the majority of calls (66%, 101) were medical in nature.
“Obviously because of COVID took place, our EMS people decided to change the criteria for firefighters; the need for fire departments, and that resulted in the percentage of calls shifting away from our agreement of calls as we did in 2019,” said Chief Baranik.
According to Chief Baranik’s report, Bayham firefighters responded to an increased amount of emotional crisis calls as a result of the pandemic. “This included several suicides and attempts, some of which were violent,” he wrote.
The 36 fire calls throughout 2020 included structure fires, vehicle fires, grass and wildland fires and responses were unauthorized and authorized burning occur. There were no residential injuries or deaths involving fires, and the estimated dollar loss was reported at $1,676,250.
Several structures were saved because of firefighter efforts, including a food shack at 31 Robinson Street in Port Burwell (Big Joe’s Q), a feed mill at 53777 Talbot Line, and a garage at 37 Strachan Street in Port Burwell. The majority of fire calls were open air unauthorized (10), structure (8), and outdoor (7).
Bayham Fire Department responded to more motor vehicle collisions (30 in 2020, compared to 17 in 2019 and 20 in 2018), with many of these incidents occurring on Talbot Line (Highway 3).
“We’ve had to respond to several accidents and it’s unusual because a lot of these have been in the daylight, when traffic and the weather’s good. It’s somewhat unexplainable as to why these motor vehicle collisions are happening,” said Chief Baranik.
There was an increase in public hazard calls, with 22 incidents taking place in 2020 compared to 12 in 2019. This was due to the number of severe storms the municipality experienced last year. For example, on November 15, the fire department responded to seven incidents involving trees across the road and downed hydro lines.
“It’s been a frustrating year for training because of our COVID situation and the Ontario regulations. We cancelled two months in 2020. I can tell you that so far this year we’ve cancelled all but two months for the first five months of training in 2021,” said Chief Baranik.
The fire department purchased a variety of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to protect firefighters while they responded to calls. Other upgrades include the inspection of two tankers to ensure pumps were working.
Two 14-inch blade, battery operated chainsaws were also purchased last year, the need for which arose while responding to severe storms. All firefighters have been trained to use the chainsaws.
Chief Baranik said that as a result of the pandemic, the fire department had to come up with creative ways to promote fire safety. The department made fire safety messaging and posted it to the department’s blog site.
“We have a firefighter who has a photography business, he also has the ability to make small animation type movies,” said Chief Baranik. “We were able to use him. I was extremely impressed with the way he did our fire prevention in October.”
Chief Baranik discussed the video with other Elgin County fire chiefs, one of whom asked how much it cost to create the video.
“I told him it was roughly $1,000 per department. He says ‘Wow. I made one last year and it cost me $10,000 for my one department for one video. So, I was very proud of the savings we were able to do there.”
Dealing with the pandemic has been challenging, said Chief Baranik, but there were several benefits that came out of the situation. Bayham has not had to enforce any COVID-19 regulations; the responses to complaints have all been through education.
The department mainly operated within the budget, with some exceptions. As 2020 saw an increase in calls for service over the previous year, there was an $11,000 overage in volunteer firefighter remuneration. Other overage categories included vehicle maintenance, emergency operations centre, communication equipment maintenance, and sundry.
Department priorities in 2021 include the promotion of the Voyent Alert system, ensuring reports required by legislation are completed in a timely manner, and working with the municipal treasurer to examine capital replacements, including an aging fleet and self-contained breathing apparatus.
Another priority is recruit class, which will feature an in-house class designed to use membership skills while training the recruits. Mr. Baranik wrote, “This is a bold adventure to ensure the new recruits meet the requirements of the NFPA and its independent testing. The intent is to open this training to other departments in the area.”
Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express