By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD
Rural volunteer fire departments and brigades will get support from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September.
The TNRD board unanimously approved my resolution calling on the UBCM to lobby the provincial government to provide financial support for rural fire services in fighting wildfires.
The resolution complements an earlier one from the TNRD asking for ongoing financial help from the provincial government for volunteer fire departments for operating, capital and training costs.
Hopefully, the two resolutions will send a strong message to the B.C. government if endorsed by UBCM delegates.
The board also agreed to my request to apply for a meeting with Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to discuss rural fire department funding.
In the wake of the recent provincial report on the 2017 wildfires, I felt it was worthwhile to submit a motion specific to wildfires. The report, authored by former health minister George Abbott and First Nations Chief Maureen Chapman, includes several recommendations advising more support for rural volunteer fire departments.
Of particular interest is recommendation 84, which makes reference to “rural and remote communities that lack capacity for fully resourced fire departments but seek emergency training and response capacity.”
The report says, “Many communities do not have a sufficient tax base to support volunteer fire departments. This recommendation urges capacity-building where local communities demonstrate interest.”
This is exactly the situation rural fire brigades find themselves in and is consistent with a presentation I made to the Abbott-Chapman commission. Small communities that feel they can’t shoulder the burden of taxation necessary to buy and operate fire trucks and build fire halls are left to raise money through donations and build their own non-traditional fire services.
The Paul Lake Emergency Response Unit is a perfect example of what can be accomplished outside the truck-and-hall model of fire service.
The fire brigade there now has a trailer unit in which it keeps all its pumps and other equipment, making the brigade highly mobile.
Fire chief Ed Lund says the trailer and equipment cost around $20,000, most of which was raised within the community.
“This is the best of all worlds,” he says of the new unit.
Lund says the brigade is now able to get water to all residences in the community.
Pinantan Lake and East Paul Lake also have very active brigades that frequently demonstrate their value in fighting both residential and interface fires.
Due to liability concerns, the TNRD voted earlier in the year to cut off all forms of financial assistance to fire brigades not funded via the collection of taxes through the TNRD.
That means I can no longer help them out through my electoral area director’s discretionary fund, a small budget allotted to directors for helping community projects.
To my knowledge, I was the only TNRD electoral area director providing such funding to fire brigades.
Resolutions approved by the UBCM are presented to government and often form government policy.
Here’s my resolution as approved by the TNRD board:
WHEREAS rural volunteer fire departments in B.C. provide safety for their communities and also save the Province millions of dollars through their courageous efforts in fighting wildfires,
AND WHEREAS many of these fire departments are self-funded brigades that operate without financial support from any level of government due to an insufficient tax base,
AND WHEREAS the flood and fire report Addressing the New Normal: 21stCentury Disaster Management in B.C. recognizes the need for a strategy to support these fire departments and brigades in the valuable role they play in fighting wildfires,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that UBCM request that the Province of British Columbia provide funding to rural and First Nations fire brigades and fire departments with emergency training, equipment and response capacity with respect to urban interface wildfires.
And here’s the earlier resolution from Director Sally Watson, which was also endorsed by the Southern Interior Local Government Association at its convention this spring:
WHEREAS volunteer fire departments provide emergency firefighting response services to communities throughout British Columbia while struggling to meet the increasing costs driven by expanded regulations and compliance requirements, increasing demand for services and changes in the legal environment;
AND WHEREAS the Province of BC does not contribute directly to the delivery of fire services by local volunteer fire departments making service delivery very challenging for small fire departments and communities:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that UBCM request that the Province of British Columbia set up a program to provide ongoing funding to all volunteer fire departments to assist in the annual operating costs associated with purchase and maintenanceof capital infrastructure and equipment, training, and administration of the fire service.