Some residents of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District may have to fight their own fires, after the emergency service was cancelled in their area.
The SLRD announced Tuesday, July 31 that the Village of Pemberton has withdrawn its longstanding voluntary fire services to regions within electoral area C, leaving some homeowners in the Pemberton Valley to fend for themselves.
“They’re in the situation they would have been in before, had the Village of Pemberton not voluntarily provided service, in that they have no fire protection beyond what they can provide for themselves individually,” said Paul Edgington, CAO for the SLRD.
The VoP will continue to provide fire services within the agreed upon Pemberton Fire Protection Specified Area, which roughly stops north of the village at the Ryan Creek Bridge, to the east in Mount Currie and south along Highway 99 at Rutherford Creek.
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said the SLRD left the VoP no choice but to withdraw services.
Sturdy said the informal arrangement between the VoP and the SLRD is insufficient and has left the village footing the bill for the regional district.
Edgington pointed out that the district has been cost sharing with the VoP for fire services since 1969 — helping to purchase fire trucks and this year alone paying $83,225 to the VoP.
But Sturdy said the current financial support from the SLRD is only for fire services within the specified region, and does not cover anything outside of that area.
He said the VoP has been trying to reach a formal agreement with the SLRD on these outlying areas for the past five years, and has suggested that $70,000 would be an appropriate payment.
Sturdy said the SLRD countered with a one-time offer of $15,000, which the VoP accepted on two conditions: signing over title to two fire trucks and promise to reach a formal fire service arrangement by September. But the SLRD met neither of these conditions.
Edgington said the VoP’s request for title transfer on the two fire trucks is “problematic.”
According to Sturdy, the trucks were purchased by the SLRD on behalf of the VoP because, at the time, the village didn’t have enough borrowing power. The VoP paid for 78 per cent of the vehicles, with the SLRD covering the remaining 22 per cent.
The regional district has refused to sign over the title because they say it is not that simple — there are statutory issues that complicate the process.
“They’ve got a litany of excuses as to why it can’t happen,” said Sturdy.
The VoP also extended its September deadline more than once. But when the end of July rolled around and the SLRD hadn’t met the two demands, they decided it was time to cut off services.
“What are we supposed to do? At some point we need to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘OK, we are withdrawing services. Now please come to the table,’” said Sturdy.
The tactic may have worked.
Sturdy said administration from SLRD and VoP are meeting to discuss the issue this week, and in a press release issued July 31, the SLRD said it would be speaking with community members to see if they would be interested in getting the service back.
Sturdy said he thinks taxpayers will be willing to pay their fair share.
“My sense of it is that none of those communities have any problem whatsoever paying for fire service,” said Sturdy.
Sturdy said the VoP is still willing to negotiate with the SLRD, and has no problem providing service to the outlying areas if a formal agreement is in place.
In fact, Sturdy said members of the local fire department are unhappy about the discontinuation of service, because they feel it’s their job to protect life and property, regardless of agreements between councils.
“I met with them last week to explain the situation, and they expressed their discomfort, but said that they completely understood because this has been going on for years and years and years.”