Discover Moose Jaw is taking a look back at 2023 and today's article is with Moose Jaw Fire Department Chief Rod Montgomery. 

Q: What are some of the highlights for yourself and the fire department from the past year? 

I think just continuing to get on with our public education, getting into the schools, being more robust in those areas is important, for our crews to get out and company inspections and our fire prevention branch certainly trying to get compliance with all of the businesses and apartments and such in the city. Those are things that in 2023 we were starting to look at wanting to do a better job at and to certainly continue that in 2024. One of the programs we now have to help us go paperless type of thing, with our fire inspection, they are done on the spot and that information then can be shared with the business owner, etc. right away. We just email it instead of going back to the office and filling in the info. Everything can be done live, so that helps us too and for the follow ups with those businesses. Those types of things we just want to keep improving on. 

Q: Looking ahead to 2024, what is next for the Moose Jaw Fire Department? 

Certainly, just public education. We want people to understand not only in businesses but in their own private residences. Certainly, they can reach out to us on how they can do things better. I think education plays such a big part in prevention of fires, but also we are seeing there has been more crime, as you are aware, since I think 2014 it’s continued to increase in the city. Some of those things that are associated with it like needle pickups and medical responses for overdoses, continue to increase. That does put an effort on the fire department to keep up with those things. We dealt with some arson fires. Hopefully, we can eliminate all of that in 2024. You never eliminate those types of things, but you try to do the best you can. Kudos to planning, we did get a lot of vacant buildings knocked down last year and those types of things are an invitation for trouble. Going into 2024, I know we are in a lot better place because we've addressed some of those vacant buildings that were debilitated. From that perspective, that's a positive for the city. Cleanliness and the more we can do in that regard certainly helps just to keep those smaller fires from getting set. 

Q: We are seeing with homelessness and addictions that many other cities’ fire departments grappling with these issues. Are you seeing that with your fire department? 

Probably to a smaller degree. Certainly, in bigger centres it is a bigger issue because they have more of it. As that spreads out to smaller centres it becomes an issue. We are seeing some issues from it for sure. That is just the use of drugs, the needle pickups and when we are responding to overdoses. It's all related to some illegal substances. We are seeing issues with that. Certainly, back in the day, it wasn't that long ago we'd rarely go for a needle pickup and now year-over-year we're seeing what seems like an increase in those numbers where it's 50 or 100 and the amount of needles in some areas. It is an issue and it's an issue for landlords and for businesses as well. I know it's an issue. It's not going away any time soon and it's starting to move across North America, Europe, and everyone is seeing these types of issues now. 

Q: What were some of the big events that the fire department was called to this past year? 

We did have the Dollar Tree unfortunately. Most of our events or highlights are sometimes bad news in that sense. We did have a major fire up at the Dollar Tree where that building was a total loss unfortunately and it still has not been rebuilt up in that area. It's been cleaned up. We did have a couple of apartment blocks burn down as well and, unfortunately, we did have a couple fatalities last year. We always want that number to be at zero and any time you lose a life it’s a bad thing. Anything we can do to prevent that we want to make sure that that happens. On the plus side, I thought just having our open house and getting all of the kids and people to that again. We had that for a couple of days up at South Hill. It is a big event in October. It is something where we like to show off our equipment and what we do to some degree to the public so that they can see it in a controlled environment. That's always fun and the kids really enjoy it and we do too as well as a department. Certainly, our firefighters who are working that day, they are available and have a good time showing the kids around or anyone from the general public and our public education officers is up there and does a great job as well. That, for us, is always a big event and we are really proud of it and enjoy doing that for the people. Again, we do help with EMS. We do augment them for heart attacks, and major trauma and go to calls as required regarding overdoses, etc., maybe a lift assist. Although not as much, we still perform that activity as well. All in all, though, we have from 2023 probably an increase over 2022 and 2021 in our total call volume. I don't have those numbers right now, but we will see a slight uptick. Hopefully in 2024, we can get that down a bit and again we just continue to do what we do and try to do it a little bit better. 

Q: Training is ongoing with the fire department. How did that go this past year? 

I think training-wise, I like to look at our department and our members as well-trained and well-versed in everything they do and we try to hit all of the topics a couple of times a year and ongoing throughout the year, whether it's vehicle extrication, hazmat, confined space, low slope, high angle rescues, water rescues, we look at those as a positive for our department. Most of our members are well-versed in it. Those are ongoing things, and you have to continually address them and work at it. Once you are up there, those skills have to be maintained. We try to do our best year in and year out to do that. We also have a really good officer training program. Even our radio communications, those types of things, when in the heat of the moment comes that you are prepared and our members do a great job of that, working with dispatch and all outside agencies we may be involved with. That's police, EMS, SaskPower, SaskEnergy, city crews, all of the public works, utilities, etc. We work with a lot of agencies and it's important. I'd be remiss if I didn't say a big part of that is 15 Wing as well. We have a partnership or a contract, contractually we are under obligation to support 15 Wing with structural firefighting. We are pleased to have that contract for the next few years. There is ongoing training out at the Wing that we have to maintain, building familiarization, we do go over some of the parts of the plane if there was a crash but that is not our primary focus. If we are going to do those things, we have to continuously train to make sure that we're prepared for anything that might come. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

No new resources coming in 2024, it was kind of a status quo budget for us. To some degree, we do have our collective agreement to be negotiated and we are at an impasse with that right now. Certainly, we are behind in that but that is something we need to deal with potentially in 2024 but we will see. 

You can hear Discover Moose Jaw's Shawn Slaght's full interview with Fire Chief Rod Montgomery below: