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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Fire experiences 17% increase in calls in 2023, conducts 330 inspections

- Essex Emergency Management Program approved -

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

2023 proved to be another busy year for Essex Fire & Rescue, Chief Jason Pillon told Council at the Tuesday, April 2 meeting, where he presented a report detailing highlights from 2023.

  Essex Council received the report for information, which noted Essex Fire’s Calls for Service increased 17%, compared to the previous year, responding to a total of 394 calls.

  Of those calls, 34 – or 8.6% – were for fires.

  Pillon noted that included structure, car, rubbish, and grass and field fires.

  Essex Fire also responded to public hazard calls, like natural gas leaks, chemical spills, and powerline down or arching calls.

  “It is important to note that a significant factor contributing to the rise in calls in 2023 were the three major storm events,” Pillon told Council. Those storms included the ice storm last February, the downburst in Harrow in July, and the tornado in August that led to inland flooding. “During these three events, we were dispatched to a total of 64 calls.”

  Taking away the storm-related calls, 2023 call volume would have been similar to 2022, Pillon noted.

  In addition, he continued, 23% of responses were for false alarms calls, including fire, smoke, and CO alarm activation. Most were in residential homes.

  In the instance the alarms are found to be faulty, Pillon noted firefighters are able to leave an alarm, correcting the issue. Those alarms were donated last year by the Rotary Club of Harrow and Enbridge.

  Pillon noted it was a good year in providing training. Some of the training provided to staff includes NFPA Fire Officer Training to advance Captain training and for Firefighters hoping to be Captains one day.

  Firefighters also took part in advanced auto extrication training last year. With battery-operated and electric vehicles, it is important for Firefighters to stay up-to-date on training.

  Essex Fire is trying to focus on Peer Support Training and mental wellness of Firefighters “to ensure they are taken care of. They see some things that people shouldn’t, and we really want to push Peer Support on our staff and offer that to them,” Pillon said.

  In terms of the Public Education and Prevention Division of the local Fire Department, Deputy Chief Jacey Brockman, said 2023 proved to be a successful year. 330 fire inspections were conducted, including, requests, routine, complaints, and safety concerns. This division also has to conduct inspections at temporary foreign worker housing and at Short-Term Rental units.

  In addition, provincial-mandated vulnerable occupancy inspections were conducted.  

  Freighters also attended 77 events in 2023, providing public safety education, handing out pamphlets and other resources as they engaged with around 10,000 people.

  “The standout statistic from 2023 is that our firefighters remain free of any significant injuries, apart from the occasional minor bumps and bruises,” Pillon told Council.

He and Brockman are “immensely proud of our firefighting team. We want to express our gratitude to them for their unwavering commitment, diligent training, and the sacrifices they make away from their families.  

  “Their dedication is remarkable and they consistently deliver outstanding service to the residents of Essex.”

  Councillor Katie McGuire-Blais would like to see a fire prevention education program with local businesses to ensure compliance.

  Brockman noted there is an inspection schedule Essex Fire maintains, as there are certain businesses or occupancies that Essex Fire tries to visit on an annual basis, depending on their occupancy, what is in the building, and what is required through the Fire Code.  

  With more time, more routine visits to commercial businesses can take place, he added, as 330 inspections took place last year.

  Jake Morassut, Director of Community Services, added that based on staffing at Essex Fire, that is a significant level of service change that would not be able to take place, based on time and resources currently. If that is something Council wishes, it can be looked at internally, perhaps making a business case with a fee structure.

  As a local business owner, Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley said firefighters inspect his facility every year, and he enjoys their visit.

  In answering Shepley’s question about the current vacancy in the position of Assistant Deputy Fire Chief – which became vacant when former Fire Chief Rick Arnel Retired and Pillon and Brockman advanced in the department – Pillon noted they are currently recruiting and conducting interviews with the Town’s Human Resource Department.

  Councillor Brad Allard was impressed to hear about the Peer Support Program.

  Mayor Sherry Bondy commented it was great to hear that there was a lot of interest in filling the 12 vacant firefighting positions, with over 50 recently attending a physical testing session.

  In addition, Essex Council approved the Essex Emergency Management Program and Emergency Response Plan and adopted a by-law for the Plan that governs the provisions of necessary services during emergencies for the Town of Essex.

  Pillon said the Emergency Management Civil Protection Act requires municipalities to implement an Emergencies Management Program through the passage of a By-Law.

He noted there is mention of the Town’s Emergency Management Program in the current Emergency Response Plan and By-Law. Emergency Management Ontario requires a full program By-Law in 2024 for compliance. This includes an Emergency Response Plan and Program combined into one By-Law.

  The By-Law highlights there is a committee that meets monthly. Morassut is the Emergency Management Coordinator. There is an Emergency Management Control Group in place that conducts annual training and an exercise. There is an Emergency Response Plan.

  After last year’s major storms, Council set aside $50,000 in the 2024 Budget for emergency funding. Councillor Rodney Hammond asked about its function. CAO Doug Sweet noted any unused funds would be put into reserve for future use. He believes $50,000 will be put into the fund annually.


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