An idea for shared fire department services in the South Cariboo has been brought forward by 100 Mile House Fire-Rescue (OMFR) chief Darrell Blades.
On Feb. 4, he presented a package of information to the South Cariboo Joint Committee and then it went to the District of 100 Mile House Council the next day.
The report proposes investigating shared, non-core services between local Cariboo Regional District (CRD) fire departments to better cover costs and personnel, which Blades says are “getting strapped” in some cases.
“It is: ‘what if we took all the other services that we provide as fire departments, and shared the costs for the equipment and things, and each department committed two to five members to those teams’?”
A shared fire service program would help eliminate the duplication of many services, more evenly distribute the costs of providing those services and spread the training requirements out, he explains.
However, the investigation would look at various options, such as individual departments specializing in different areas, such as ice rescue or HAZMAT (hazardous materials), as well as shared administrative functions, which range from data entry to fire engine maintenance.
“It’s to look at some new services that we could maybe provide and be better off economically and for manpower. The real key is manpower because we can only put so much on our volunteers before they turn around and say ‘this is too much, I’m not doing it’.”
The idea was hatched when OMFR reviewed the funding model for its role as the sole provider for highway rescue services in the South Cariboo, Blades says, adding it has now reached a point where it is no longer financially viable.
The OMFR service has morphed into an “all hazards response agency” now and approaching 300 service calls a year, he explains, which “drastically” increased the demands on manpower, and led to difficulties with retention of volunteers and it also deters new recruits.
“In our department, our training module is based on 450 hours. We do fire suppression, first responder medical co-response with the ambulance, and we do the highway rescue.
“Now, if I put on more services … my guys are already maxed.”
Other services not offered by every fire department include HAZMAT, ice rescue, sprinkler protection (for homes near wildfires), emergency services training and others.
Ice rescue is currently only done by 108 Mile Ranch Volunteer Fire Department, he notes, but because there is no shared services agreement, bylaws prevent it from leaving its own service zone.
Noting it developed from his discussions with other fire chiefs, Blades says it is “just a conceptual idea” at this point.
However, OMFR plans to work together with other CRD fire departments and prepare a firm plan to bring back to the local governments, he explains.
100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall says that upon his first look at it, he thinks it is a “great idea” for fire departments to work together.
“They are working together now, and this is just going to enhance that, and make it a better service all around.
“Our fire departments are literally overworking themselves. It’s nice to see this [discussion] is going on.”
The regional fire chiefs have also been sent the information package, and Blades says he plans to open a discussion with them at an upcoming quarterly meeting for all South Cariboo fire chiefs in mid-February.
“Every fire department keeps its autonomy, what it’s doing, its local community stuff. There is no discussion on amalgamating or a merge.”
Other non-CRD community fire departments would not be included in the plan because the taxation funding model doesn’t apply to them.
Blades also notes other areas across the country have successfully shared services for some time.