By Connor Simonds
As Markham Fire Chief Dave Decker approaches 30 years of service with the local fire and emergency services, he took the time to sit down with the The Review to discuss his career, including military, fire service and the future of firefighting.
Decker is self-effacing about his merits, but his career in public service has been nothing short of remarkable. He served as a firefighter in the Canadian Air Force and a combat engineer in the infantry. He joined Markham Fire in October 1988, holding a number of positions and culminating in being named fire chief as of February 2016. His efforts include work with various firefighting organizations and has produced several awards.
“Most people think of firefighters as the first line of defence when it comes to fires along with other serious incidents,” he said, when asked to share some of the keys changes over the thirty years in firefighting. “However, over the past 30 years, public education and fire prevention has come to the forefront and is truly the first line of defence for preventable fires. Emergency response is the last line of defence.”
The fire suppression resources positioned in a community, like stations, equipment and staffing are vital and relied upon to respond and deal with emergencies, however, the crews often busy themselves with providing fire prevention education programs. For example, the Markham School Fire Prevention Program has been in place for more than 30 years. On-duty firefighters are assigned to attend elementary schools annually, to deliver fire and safety education to students in Grades 1-4. Decker’s attention also extends to key processes.
“Standardization of equipment, training, policies and procedures” are key to the goal of effective education and response, he says. “Thirty-years ago virtually every fire truck was different … today we have a standardized fleet of fire trucks, which results in efficient training, emergency scene operations and management of truck maintenance. Each truck is provided with a standard set of equipment to provide an effective response to fires and other emergencies.”
Today’s fire apparatus have fully enclosed cabs to protect firefighters from the effects of being involved in an accident during a response. Markham fire trucks also include climate control inside a fully protected enclosed area including air ride seats, all in an effort to reduce injury. Markham Fire has experienced a major traffic accident with one of their trucks and the result of providing the custom protective cab saved lives and reduced the injuries of the firefighters involved in the accident.
Other improvements in the last three decades include thermal imaging cameras, air monitoring devices, radio technology and computers to assist with dispatching, real-time updates, GPS, and communication. Thermal imaging cameras are provided on all fire trucks to search for victims during a fire. That allows the rapid search of a smoke-filled area, which, otherwise, would take additional time and firefighters to effectively search for victims. Similarly, air monitoring devices monitor and measure levels of toxins, including gases such as carbon monoxide during emergencies. Thirty years ago, radios had limited range and did not include features such as a flashlight, multiple channels and emergency alert button to provide a trapped or injured firefighter the means to send a signal that they need help.
With Fire Prevention Week taking place each year in October, Decker wants readers to remember public education and fire prevention has come to the forefront and is truly the first line of defence for preventable fires. A program such as Learn Not To Burn is a vital fire education tool which educates citizens on everything from when you should test your smoke alarm batteries (twice per year, at the start and end of daylight savings) to cooking safety, planning escape routes and proper storage of chemicals and flammable liquids.
Visit markham.ca/fire for more Markham Fire and Emergency Services information.
Photo: Fire Chief Dave Decker with Brenda Librecz, community and fire services commissioner.