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CSRD looks to fill gaps in road rescue services in North Okanagan-Shuswap

Two societies and two fire departments currently providing service in regional district
The Eagle Valley Rescue Society is one of the groups currently providing road rescue services within the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. (Eagle Valley Rescue Society/Facebook photo)

Firefighters in the North Shuswap and Falkland are willing to fill the need for emergency road rescue services currently provided by fire departments outside the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

This is explained by regional district protective services team leader Derek Sutherland in a report that was presented at the Jan. 12 Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) Electoral Area Directors Committee (EAD) meeting.

Currently, there are two rescue societies and two fire departments (Revelstoke and Golden) providing road rescue services within the regional district’s boundaries. There are also two fire departments outside the CSRD (Vernon and Chase) that provide road rescue services to areas within the regional district.

“Portions of Electoral Area D are serviced by Vernon Fire and Electoral Areas F and G are primarily serviced by Chase Fire,” writes Sutherland in his report. “These areas are identified as gaps because of larger-than-adequate response times.”

Sutherland said areas serviced by Revelstoke and Golden outside their fire suppression areas are largely remote and few alternatives for service delivery exist. He explains the fire department in Field recently discontinued road rescue services within the national park boundary due to liability and staffing concerns, so the Golden Fire Department has partnered with the fire department in Lake Louise to provide the service.

Reflecting on the history of emergency road rescue groups in the province, Sutherland said at one time there was as many as 23 in operation. Currently there are eight.

In 2014, the CSRD conducted a road rescue feasibility study, which found there is no legislative requirement for any governing body to provide road rescue services in the province. However, there is still a need for these services. The result, said Sutherland, is an inconsistent approach in B.C., where in many areas (approximately 80 per cent of the province), road rescue services are provided by fire departments. Elsewhere (including Sicamous and Salmon Arm), they are provided by volunteer/non-profit societies. Sutherland suggested the decline of these organizations is due to an unstable provincial funding model, volunteer recruitment and retention issues, and the service being absorbed by the local tax base via local fire departments.

Read more: Road rescue service concerns raised by Columbia Shuswap Regional District

Read more: Update: Shuswap road rescue crews still active

“Local governments throughout B.C. have long been critical of the provincial government for not taking full responsibility for road rescue,” said Sutherland, noting the province does provide some financial support – $346 per hour for road rescue apparatus that responds to a call. This does not cover fire suppression apparatus, support vehicles such as traffic control/protection units, command units, training or stress supports.

Given the need for road rescue within the CSRD, Sutherland said staff has explored interest among firefighters in Electoral Areas F and the Falkland area of Electoral Area D in developing independent societies that would provide the service.

“These fire department members have expressed a willingness to establish a road rescue service in their fire suppression area,” said Sutherland, explaining related operational and administrative needs could be provided through the current CSRD Fire Services system at an additional cost depending on the workload.

Sutherland pointed out careful considerations are needed in implementing a road rescue service. The EAD agreed to support a recommendation to the CSRD board, asking that it authorize access of up to $25,000 from the Rural Feasibility Study Fund, for a feasibility study investigating costs and governance provisions related to the establishment of road rescue services.
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
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