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Mutual aid: why you see your firefighters in neighbouring communities

Several neighbouring fire departments responded to the Naramata fire chief's call for help as part of a mutual aid agreeement during the Sunday, May 24, 2015 fire that destroyed this woodworking shop in that community.
May 30, 2015 - 10:31 AM

PENTICTON - The massive shop fire in Naramata last weekend saw fire crews from several outlying communities scrambling to aid Naramata with extra firefighters and equipment.

Extra resources were brought to bear through a mutual aid agreement with Penticton, Summerland and Kaleden which saw those departments release equipment and manpower from their fire protection areas to help Naramata during the most critical point in the firefighting.

Kaleden Fire Chief Darlene Bailey says a commonly asked question amongst residents in her community is who pays for mutual aid responses. Others wonder whether mutual aid poses a risk to fire protection in the community whose resources are called away from when an incident happens to a neighbouring community.

Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams says he feels it is important the community’s fire chief has final say in whether or not to release resources to other areas.

“As Fire Chief, if I feel there is a greater danger within my community I have the option of not sending equipment and apparatus to another area," Williams says in an email. "Last Sunday, we never left the city unprotected and used mostly a call-in crew. We had an extra officer on shift and also called out a couple of auxiliary firefighters."

Williams also noted even large communities sometimes need help, pointing to the fire that destroyed Slack Alice’s Show Pub on Front Street in February 2012, when the Summerland Fire Department provided an engine and crew to stand by in Penticton.

Regional District Okanagan Similkameen Emergency Services Supervisor Dale Kronebusch also says the decision to send firefighting resources outside a community lies with the fire chief.

“Ultimately it’s all back to the fire chief whether they have the assets and whether they can afford the assets to go out,” Kronebusch says.

He says a trend to call upon mutual aid may be on the rise, as regional departments struggle to find volunteers available during certain times of the day or week. He says the need for mutual aid agreements become critical during these periods, because the local department may simply not have enough available staff of their own.

Kronebusch says mutual aid is set up so a neighbouring community will help at zero cost.

The agreement insures fires occurring in a community’s fire protection area at times when a community can’t muster enough firefighting resources on their own can receive assistance from a neighbouring community, if resources in that community are available, he says. Because the arrangement is reciprocal in nature, there is no additional cost to taxpayers for the service.

Kronebusch says a problem may arise in the arrangement if, over time, one fire department uses the agreement a disproportionate number of times compared to another neighbouring department.

“In those cases, we can maybe open up the door and say this is going beyond mutual aid and more into automatic aid, and therefore need to talk about additional cost to our operational budget,” he says.

An Interface fire which begins on Crown land is a different situation, Kronebusch noted.

“An interface fire that starts on Crown land or outside someone’s jurisdiction will result in a provincial task number being issued, in which case the mutual aid agreement goes out the window. Everybody then goes on the payroll of the province,” he says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at sarstad@infonews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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