Regional fire service sets a new record in 2020

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Records are made to be broken, but one the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Fire Service would probably not want to break in 2021 is the number of calls for service it responded to in 2020. That was 497, a new record high for the second year in a row.

“We’re trying to figure out what the new normal is,” says chief Alex Pavcek.
The new normal includes 11 new volunteer firefighters, the result of a recruiting campaign that ran for several weeks in the latter part of 2020. Keeping the numbers up at the various halls is a constant challenge, and Pavcek is pleased with how it turned out. But no time to rest on the recruiting front, because a new application period (six weeks) has just opened up.

“The numbers are good,” Pavcek says, “but we know we’re going to lose a couple.”

Ten of the newbies are at Hall 1 (Slave Lake) and one is at Hall 2 (Widewater). Smith and Flatbush are holding their own. Only the Mitsue Hall is undermanned – a perennial problem. Anyone interested in applying can find the forms on the websites of the Town of Slave Lake and the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River.

The year just past was unusual for a variety of reasons. The big one, of course, was the COVID-19 pandemic. It forced a lot of adjustments in how the fire service conducts its business, says the chief. Meetings and in-person training were most affected. A lot can be done online, but some types of training has to be done in person, otherwise, “you get rusty.” And rusty is something you don’t want to be, when your goal is to provide the kind of service that is needed, when it is needed. That could be a bad collision on the highway, a dangerous goods incident, a structure fire or a lake rescue, to name just a few.

Speaking of lake rescues, the service has a brand-new rescue boat, paid for largely by community donations. It has yet to see service, but the crew is very keen to see what it can do in 2021, Pavcek says.

One thing the fire service had a break from, largely, in 2020, was the large, regional disaster incident requiring evacuations. Fires and floods, in other words. Just as well, because as noted, it was plenty busy. Nothing huge, but “just a lot of things,” says Pavcek.

These included a couple of complicated mill fires at Mitsue, some nasty highway incidents, a couple of structure fires in town and so on. Early in the year there were an unusual number of incidents involving log trucks. Bad weather played a role in some of those, Pavcek says. So far, so quiet on that front in 2021, with visibility good and roads clear.

As far as equipment goes, Pavcek says 2021 will be a “maintenance year.” The next truck due for replacement is the rescue unit, but not for another year or two.

And finally, will there be any more episodes of Hellfire Heroes featuring the LSLRFS?

“Nobody’s knocking on our door,” says Pavcek. “The last we heard they’re not interested.”

The new LSLRFS rescue boat, in a photo supplied by the manufacturer; it hasn’t been launched yet on any lakes in the area.

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