By Keith McNeill
Upper Clearwater’s wildfire team should not expect to get any funding or other assistance from Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
That appears to be one local implication of a decision by the TNRD board of directors on Thursday, Feb. 8, not to provide financial or in-kind contributions to “fire brigades,” by which is meant groups of volunteers organized to fight fires but not funded by tax dollars through a defined local government service area.
“The Upper Clearwater wildfire brigade has never received any funding from the TNRD or my discretionary funding and they have not requested any,” said Carol Schaffer, director for Area A (Wells Gray Country).
Schaffer confirmed that there have been discussions about transferring Vavenby fire department’s old pumper truck to the Upper Clearwater wildfire team.
How the board’s decision will affect the proposed transfer is not yet clear.
The truck is presently in for an inspection, Schaffer said.
“There is a process we have to go through but we will be having a meeting with Upper Clearwater in the near future to discuss the pumper truck,” she said. “Nothing is written in stone yet. We are working together.”
The Upper Clearwater wildfire team was formed by residents of the area during last summer’s wildfires.
As of last month, the team had 22 trained members and eight more in training.
The decision not to support fire brigades revolved mostly around the fire departments in Area P (Rivers and Peaks) such as those at Pinantan Lake and Paul Lake, explained Ron Storie, the TNRD director of community services.
Those fire departments, which appear to be primarily aimed at structural fires rather than wildfires, do not have taxes allocated to them from defined service areas.
Instead, they have been supported in part by discretionary grants from the Area P director.
“Any funding or gifting has been stopped to brigades because of the potential liability they pose to the TNRD,” Storie said. “Inherently, firefighting is a high risk operation where decisions made in split seconds can result in property loss, volunteer injury or even sadly, volunteer death.”
The director of community services pointed out that there are new legislation and standards that now require higher levels of firefighter training and equipment.
Not meeting those standards could leave the TNRD open to litigation.
The decision to end funding for the fire brigades without approved taxation service areas was strongly criticized by Mel Rothenburger, the director for Area P.
Writing in his blog, The Area “P” Post, Rothenburger said, “…politicians have the right to make bad decisions, and the TNRD exercised that right on Thursday.”
The board’s decision to end funding to the community fire brigades was part of a larger decision to stop funding the fire departments within its boundaries that are operated by societies as of 2022.
The society fire departments, such as those in Little Fort and McLure, are funded by tax dollars from local specified areas but otherwise operate independently from the regional district.
After 2022, the only fire departments that will continue to be funded through the TNRD will be those directly operated by the regional district. The TNRD already runs the Blackpool and Vavenby fire departments and the other departments will be given the opportunity to be given the same status.
For more about how that larger decision will impact the fire departments at Little Fort and McLure, see the article on page A3.