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The rising cost of fighting fires

The rising cost of fighting fires

The Sunshine Coast Regional District needs to start putting more money aside for capital replacement of fire equipment if they are to avoid future budget shortfalls, according to a 20 Year Capital Plan prepared by SCRD staff and fire departments.

SCRD directors got their first look at the plan at the Corporate and Administrative Services Committee meeting on Nov. 26. The report reviewed previous expenses for capital equipment replacement and compared them to projected future costs. In all cases, future expenses are expected to be much higher than historical costs.

The Gibsons Fire Department has spent an average of $109,000 per year on equipment over the last 15 years, but is projected to spend almost three times as much–an average of $299,000 annually–over the next 20 years. In Roberts Creek, average equipment costs of $56,000 over the last decade are projected to more than triple to $188,000 per year. Halfmoon Bay will see an increase from $61,000 to $163,000 and Egmont from $43,000 to $71,000.

SCRD Chair Garry Nohr stated that if the SCRD does not put enough money into reserve funds, when the time comes that major equipment such as a fire truck needs to be replaced, “taxpayers take a big hit that year.” Putting sufficient money into reserves will keep tax rates consistent.

A number of factors are contributing to rising costs, including the high price of new equipment and regulations that require more frequent replacement of equipment.

Maintenance costs are also increasing. Until now, volunteers have done the majority of fire hall maintenance, but due to new weekly training requirements that take up a lot of volunteer time, fire chiefs are warning that it’s not realistic to expect volunteers to take on so much maintenance work in future.

“It’s important for all of us to remember that a lot of these fire halls were built by the firemen themselves, and they can’t keep that up forever,” said Nohr.

Vehicle maintenance is another consideration. In his Jan. 24 report to Gibsons Town Council, Gibsons Fire Chief Rob Michael wrote that: “With the retirement of Fire Chief Bob Stevens who was also a heavy duty mechanic and our Maintenance Technician a few months later… the department started to send our vehicles to SCRD fleet maintenance.”

The Gibsons Fire Department will also replace its ladder truck this year at a cost of about $800,000.

Increases to the fire department capital replacement reserves are not in this year’s budget, but will be incorporated into the 2018 SCRD budget process.

The SCRD funds four fire departments: Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and Egmont. Pender Harbour and Sechelt both have Fire Improvement Districts, which are small, independent authorities that collect a tax levy to provide local services.

Donna McMahon

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