Fire Department Spotlight: Picture Butte Emergency Services
Picture Butte is the typical rural Alberta community with a population of 2,000 and a heavy agricultural focus. The people of this thriving prairie town live on the crop and cattle industry. It’s a family-oriented town with a strong community feel. No matter the project, everyone shows up. BBQ fundraisers will see over 90% of the town turning out.
The community is approximately 80% residential, however, there are still unique challenges presented to its firefighters and paramedics. The environment varies from built-up urban areas—with the typical residential, commercial, and industrial structures—to extremely remote wildland areas that present water supply issues to the department.
Recently, we had an opportunity to sit and chat with Fire Chief Frank West, a second-generation fire chief in the community where his family has been highly involved for years. Frank’s father was the community fire chief, and three of his sisters, along with his brother, have been involved with the department at different times. Chief West joined the department officially at 17 years old, although he had been around it most of his life. He says one of his proudest moments was serving alongside his dad and two of his siblings at the same time.
Chief West has been with Picture Butte Emergency Services (PBES) for 15 years and has spent the last six in the top role, leading the department forward. He became the first paid fire chief in the community in 2019.
The department is an integrated Fire & Emergency Medical Services operation, with a full roster topping out at 32 members. Currently, just like other communities, recruitment and retention can be tough, with just 30 members on the team at this time. They have a full-time fire chief, 4 full-time Primary Care Paramedics (PCPs), a full-time bylaw officer, 14 casual PCPs, and 10 paid-on-call firefighters. PBES operates two ambulances under contract to Alberta Health Services, including a 24-hour-a-day Emergency unit as well as a daytime peak unit, primarily scheduled as a non-emergency transport crew.
In 2022, the department responded to more than 300 calls for the fire service, with 13 structure fires. On the EMS side of the house, they have an annual call volume of more than 1,200. They operate from a single fire station, with a fleet of nine apparatus including light vehicles and ambulances. One of the biggest challenges Chief West identified was funding. He describes his department as “hitting outside our league” when it comes to service delivery and training.
In 2021, Picture Butte Emergency Services took delivery of a new Metalfab HEAT fire engine. This project was a partnership between the community, Safetek Profire, and Metalfab. As with many rural fire halls, space is a concern, and they had to design a truck to fit within a certain footprint.
Chief West was drawn to the Metalfab HEAT design as it offered lots of features and ergonomics, all within a small package. They were able to get their desired pump size, additional discharges, and a large tank for their rural operations. Says the Chief, “The truck hits all aspects we require.”
The engine was ordered just before COVID struck the world, and everything adjusted to fit the “new normal.” A virtual preconstruction was held, and communication was prompt and direct throughout the process. Things had opened up and allowed for an in-person final inspection at the Centreville, New Brunswick, factory. The Chief found everyone at Metalfab and Safetek Profire very accommodating to make it all come together, and he appreciates “organizations that bring solutions” forward.
The future is bright for this “Little Department on the Prairie.”
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