Fire Department Spotlight : St. John’s Regional Fire Department – St. John’s, NL
Manager of Mechanical Services Keith MacDonald has been with St. John’s Regional Fire Department for 8 years. Behind the scenes, Keith facilitates the day-to-day maintenance, commissioning, acquisition, and disposal of the department’s fire apparatus and sets out long-term maintenance and planning strategies for the department’s maintenance division. The St. John’s Regional maintenance division comprises Keith and two other certified emergency vehicle technicians.
Keith comes from a trades family and was always interested in taking his expertise to the next level by maintaining and designing apparatus. After he completed his automotive engineering and technology course 20 years ago, Keith entered the mining industry and then later honed those skill sets when he came to work for St. John’s Regional. He’s grateful to now have the opportunity to put pen to paper and procure the apparatus that keeps the local community safe.
We’re celebrating Keith and St. John’s Regional in this issue as we get a look behind the scenes from a different perspective. Up to now, we’ve primarily interviewed our local fire chiefs. However, Keith reminds us just how much of a team effort goes into producing the fire apparatus at the heart of every department.
Throughout the years, what has been your favourite memory with St. John’s Regional?
The big thing for me is seeing my vision come to life every time we get a new piece of apparatus and seeing how satisfied the team is using the new unit. At the end of the day, they are the end user, so designing a piece of apparatus that fits their needs is always a good memory for me.
Tell me a little about the community of St. John’s itself.
St. John’s is the most easterly capital city in North America. The crux of the city is a narrow street surrounded by hills and old construction. The city core is densely residential with a lot of row housing and interspersed commercial areas. As you move away from the city core, you’ll find a series of industrial parks, which spread into other communities. We look after six of these industrial parks as a department. Further west, you get into the rural farming communities.
Does St. John’s have any unique qualities that present challenges for the department?
The downtown core is the most challenging for us. We’ve had three major fires over the years, but the largest by far was the Great Fire of 1892, which essentially annihilated the city. St. John’s Regional Fire Department was formed not long after that in 1895.
After the Great Fire, building material was scarce, so a lot of construction was done in the form of row housing, which creates a hazard when there is a fire and the hilly topography makes it hard to access level ground. We’ve had instances where our crew needed to go four houses up the street to find a safe spot to access the building at risk. We also have a lot of older buildings downtown that were originally different heights and the owners have built several layers of roof to increase the height of the smaller buildings, which can make it difficult for us to access the interior in an emergency.
Another area of the community, the Battery, is a difficult area for us to access because the roads are so narrow and sometimes they are only wide enough for one car. We’ve addressed this by adding a smaller brush truck and some portable pumps to our fleet for when we need to go out that way.
How many people do you have working in your department?
Not including management and staffing, we have approximately 200 members. That includes our temporary firefighters. We also have a composite station with about 30 volunteers.\
How many stations do you work out of?
We currently have eight stations, seven that are staffed 24/7 and one that is composite.
What is the greatest challenge you are currently facing in the department?
Aside from the pandemic, we are currently struggling with our rate of growth. When you grow, the dynamics of what you have to supply in apparatus and personnel change. This is especially true when expanding into another district with needs that vary from what you’re already servicing and you need to produce new apparatus to respond to those needs.
Absolutely. How many trucks do you have in your fleet?
We currently have 22 units that I would classify as apparatus. That includes our pumpers, our aerials, our rescue units, and some specialized equipment such as what we have for the Battery region and our command units. We also have some ancillary support equipment like pick ups and truck trailers.
What’s the main challenge you face in maintaining your fleet?
The main challenge here is corrosion and parts delivery. Corrosion is number one. Being in the middle of the Atlantic, the salt air is present in every season. We’ve had pressure governors from multiple manufacturers corrode to the point where they just fall out of the pump panel.
Tell us about your experience manufacturing with Metalfab.
I’ve been dealing with you guys for the eight years I’ve been here. In fact, my first truck was a Metalfab tanker. The department purchased their first truck from Metalfab before that in 1990. It’s always been like dealing with family without the arguments. You’re supported the whole way through the build, and there’s constructiveness coming from both directions. Afterward, you can pick up the phone anytime to call for assistance. And it doesn’t matter who you speak to, they’ll go to bat to make sure you get what you need.
To date, we’ve purchased approximately 15 trucks from Metalfab and even have a couple in production right now. We still have the 2000 freight liner running on our fleet, and it’s continuing to serve us well.
Bring Your Vision to Life with Metalfab
Thank you to Keith MacDonald of St. John’s Regional Fire Department for interviewing with Metalfab’s Business Development Manager, Ryan Stacey. If your department is looking to bring your own visions for a custom fire truck to life, our Metalfab team would love to hear from you. Give us a call at 1-800-561-0012 or contact Ryan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.