David Mitchell

Review supports regional fire services

Rossland mayor says review didn’t answer crucial questions

A comprehensive review of regional fire services commissioned at the behest of the City of Rossland, concluded that the fire department functions well and provides the community with sound and cost effective service.

That is good news for the 18,000 residents living in the department’s 1196-square kilometre fire protection area that encompasses two large rural areas and five municipalities, because the study found that, on average, Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue (KBRFR) responds promptly to one incident every seven hours.

“When people dial 911 they expect someone to be coming in a timely fashion,” said Dan Derby, regional deputy fire chief. “The consultants did an excellent job with factual data around our response time that supports why we need to do certain things to ensure that every resident within our fire service boundary is serviced to the best of our ability.”

However, the study failed to spark an action plan about how to increase fire rescue efficiencies and reduce the cost of the service, which was the fuel behind the $40,000 review, according to Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom.

“The City of Rossland made specific requests that started this ball rolling,” he said. “We sent a resolution to the regional district asking for a review of how the regional fire service can make new service more cost effective,” Granstrom continued. “Did this report answer that?

“Did anyone even ask how we can better make use of our resources,” Granstrom said. “I say, ‘No,’ that wasn’t even addressed.”

The mayor’s comments followed an overview of the Kootenay Boundary Regional District Fire Services Review that was presented by the consulting firm to the regional district, members of the East End Services, and a roomful of firefighters Tuesday afternoon.

David Mitchell and Associates, a B.C. company specializing in fire service analysis, spent 17 days in the area last summer to review operations and service delivery of the Kootenay Boundary Regional District Fire Rescue and its six fire halls.

Although the final 39 recommendations have yet to be prioritized, the team hit on an area of significant concern regarding the recruitment and retention of paid on-call firefighters; the need for a joint training centre; consideration of entering into a mutual aid agreement with Salmo;  and clarification of mutual aid agreements with Castlegar and Teck Trail Operations.

Additionally, Mitchell suggested an increase in career staffing by one firefighter per shift and a full time training officer to support the department as a single unit that is well managed.

“I asked about efficiencies and the report says to hire more people and build a new training centre,” said Granstrom. “The City of Rossland paid $600,000 to the regional district for fire service. Rossland is looking for ways to save.”

Last year, a 3.5 per cent increase in regional district taxes meant Trail paid over $1.3 million, or almost 44 per cent of the $3.06 million fire service budget. Area B paid $302,000 to the fire service; Warfield, $139,600; Montrose, $90,600; Fruitvale $167,000 and Area A, $522,600.

Politics aside, the review recognized the value of service that approximately 100 paid on-call firefighters add to the department, which includes 14 full-time firefighters, a fire chief and a deputy fire chief.

The report noted that cost sharing is conceptually fair, six fire halls are required to provide coverage and fire service should continue as a single unit of staff and on-call firefighters.

“We are very happy with the presentation and will move forward with recommendations made by the East End Services,” said Terry Martin, KBRFR fire chief.  “We would like to see a regional training facility to look after our six halls under one department,” Martin said. “And to provide space for training to the proper standard for interior firefighting.”

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