Kootenay Boundary Regional District’s fire halls dry up

RDKB has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards alcohol in its firehalls.

Local firefighters will no longer be sharing an after-practice pint in house since the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) just introduced zero-tolerance alcohol in its fire halls.

The policy that was adopted at the end of October has been a long time in the making, according to RDKB chief administrative officer John MacLean,

“The fire halls are a workplace, and it just seems appropriate that alcohol shouldn’t be in a workplace unless it’s under controlled circumstances,” he said. “The committees and the board spent a fair amount of time on this issue to ensure that they got it right, so clearly the board felt it was a step in the right direction.”

The policy states that there will be no alcohol in the region’s fire halls with the exception of four special occasion permits allowed for celebrations like a Christmas party. During this time, fire halls are expected to assign at least three members to remain sober and on-call.

The requirements of volunteer firefighters have changed over the years, said MacLean, who sited work safety and liability as just a few reasons to make the change.

“We fully support and recognize that there is a social aspect of being a volunteer at your local hall,” he added.

“There is a sense of community pride and there always has been and always will be. We just feel that this policy represents a reasonable compromise.”

Regional fire chief Terry Martin wasn’t surprised by the change. He spent last Thursday contacting district fire chiefs at the volunteer halls (Rossland, Warfield, Genelle, Trail, Montrose and Fruitvale) in the region to share the news.

“A lot of fire services throughout North America have already gone this route; we’re actually catching up to other departments,” he said. “I think everybody knew this was going to happen eventually, and the timing is pretty good and we have to move forward with it.”

He doesn’t expect any pushback from departments, some of which were already moving in that direction.

“Our members in the paid on-call ranks let us know when they’re going to have their parties and our departments have been really good at having an unofficial duty crew who don’t drink and are able to respond to calls,” he     explained.

Warfield has been dry for years, he added. The internal policy has had a good response from the community and recruitment numbers, if a full roster of 21 committed individuals is any indication.

Derek Wolfe, district fire chief of Company 2 Warfield, said the move was made in 2009 to follow in line with operational guidelines in place for responding to calls.

“If you look at the system we’re working under, there is really no volunteer positions in regional rescue,” he clarified.

“We’ve got a career staff down in Trail, and everybody else is paid on-call so it’s a job and along with a job comes liabilities, work safe regulations and training standards.“By having a no-alcohol policy in Warfield, we’ve allowed our members to focus on doing that job, which is partly the training aspect and the other part of that job is the delivery of emergency services.”

The social aspect hasn’t left either; he said, noting an after practice dinner in house and many get-togethers, some which are held off the premises.