THE TRAGIC FIRE in the Monte Creek area this week has raised questions about fire service in rural areas, so for those who aren’t familiar with the current process, I’ll do my best to explain it.
Large areas of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, including my own community of Black Pines, are without fire service. The main reason for that is that fire protection is a local service that must be paid by the property owners within each fire service area, and a lot of communities just don’t have the population to support it.
When interest is shown in establishing a fire protection service, the TNRD first establishes a zone around the location on which a fire hall can be built. That zone can extend eight kilometers from the main hall or, in the case of a satellite hall, 16 km by road.
Through consultation and public meetings, some key decisions have to be made. One is the system that will be used for taxation — either a flat rate or one based on the assessed value of each property.
Another is the method of approval by those who will be affected. One way of doing it is through a petition process. Petitions are sent out to property owners, which are either returned by those who want the service, or not returned by those who don’t want it.
Another option is to vote by referendum, in which case all eligible voters within the service area can go the polls in the same way they do for an election.
There are pros and cons to both methods, and it’s the responsibility of the electoral area director in which the service is located to assess the wishes of residents on the method to be used.
In the fire service proposals I’ve been involved in, the TNRD has always been careful to explain that a fire service operated by the regional district may or may not result in lower fire insurance premiums.
Potential reductions depend on factors such as distance from the hall, and have to be confirmed by the individual insurer and/or Fire Underwriters Survey.
Sometimes, residents decide they simply can’t afford the costs. Pinantan Lake residents turned down a proposed service a few years ago. Residents at Paul Lake approved a proposal but upon further study of cost impacts decided to reverse that decision. Both communities are currently served by brigades that function with donations and fundraising rather than via taxation.
The satellite service being discussed for Monte Creek in Electoral Area L would include a part of Electoral Area P across the South Thompson River covering the stretch west of Lafarge (except for the Lafarge ‘notch’ served by Kamloops) and east to Rivershore, which has its own fire department paid for by residents.
Area L Director Ken Gillis has been working hard for the past two years on the possibility of establishing a new service in that area, and my alternate director Lee Morris has been involved in some of the discussions as well.
If it’s clear there’s a significant level of interest in fire protection there, a formal approval process will be established and residents will be asked to make a decision, likely next year.
At its regular meeting in April, the TNRD board of directors received the final feasibility report on expanding the Pritchard fire protection area via a satellite volunteer service at Monte Creek, and authorized a survey of residents as the next step in consultation.
One other note. I’ve mentioned a couple of types of fire service — those operated and taxed by the TNRD, and brigades. There was another type, in which a community could own the fire hall and operate the fire service but was funded through taxation. McLure is an example of that, but not long ago made the decision — again through a formal approval process — to become a TNRD-administered fire service rather than an independent one. However, trained volunteer firefighters still provide the protection.
Several other such fire departments in other communities did the same.
— Mel Rothenburger, Director, Electoral Area P