An independent review of flood and wildfire practices commissioned by the B.C. government holds some potentially good news for rural fire departments.
The report, called Addressing the New Normal: 21stCentury Disaster Management in British Columbia, summarizes the findings of co-chairs George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman.
Among its 108 recommendations are several relating to rural fire services.
One of the most important is recommendation 84, which states, “The Office of the Fire Commissioner, in conjunction with the BC Wildfire Service, be encouraged to develop a strategy that supports First Nations communities and rural and remote communities that lack capacity for fully resourced fire departments but seek emergency training and response capacity.”
The rationale for the recommendation, as stated in the report, is that “Many small communities do not have a sufficient tax base to support volunteer fire departments. This recommendation urges capacity-building where local communities demonstrate interest.”
The recommendation is central to the issue of financial support for volunteer rural non-tax-funded fire brigades, something I emphasized in my submission to the Abbot-Chapman review.
Another important recommendation from their report also relates to funding: “BC provide ongoing funding to volunteer fire departments to assist with wildland urban interface response. Funding provided to cover annual operating costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of capital infrastructure and equipment, as well as training for that purpose. BC to consider the Insurance Premium Tax as a funding source.”
The stated rationale for that recommendation is that “Interface fire response serves both provincial and local interests. Costs should not be borne entirely by local governments.”
Another recommendation proposes that “Canada and/or BC equip First Nations communities and rural and remote communities so they can respond to wildfires through training and development of equipment caches.”
Chapman and Abbot say in their report that “These communities would be much stronger and better equipped to handle disaster situations.”
And yet another recommendation concurs with something the TNRD and the Union of B.C. Municipalities have been saying for a long time: that “Canada be encouraged, during its 2019 review of gas tax criteria, to permit the use of gas taxes for fire service infrastructure and equipment.”
If gas tax criteria were changed in that manner, rural fire departments would be able to use gas taxes alloted to regional districts for things like fire halls, trucks and equipment.
The next step, of course, is for senior governments to endorse and act on recommendations in the report. TNRD Chair John Ranta has offered me his assistance in pressing the point with them, so I look forward to discussing it with him.
— Mel Rothenburger, Director, TNRD, Electoral Area P