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More firefighters for Squamish needed: Report

Five full-time firefighters isn't enough for B.C.'s fastest-growing community



Yet another report is encouraging the District of Squamish to hire more firefighters.

Dave Mitchell & Associates Ltd. prepared a Fire Master Plan for Squamish and presented it to Squamish Council in draft form on Tuesday, April 2 at a Committee of the Whole Meeting. The 188-page report suggests a number of changes in the near- and long-term future. The first recommendation is to hire more firefighters, a recommendation that was also made five years ago by the Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS). The FUS is a national organization that provides data on public fire protection for insurance companies. Information provided by the FUS plays a key role in determining the insurance rates charged to communities across Canada.

"The Squamish Fire Rescue Department is 82 per cent deficient with regard to available fire forces," wrote the FUS in 2008. "This is the most significant deficiency within the fire insurance grading."

The fire department in Squamish currently employs five career firefighters plus a chief and a deputy chief. The professional firefighters work with 50 volunteers, who are paid a small amount for each incident they attend but the money is paid into a fund that the volunteer firefighters manage.

According to the master plan drafted by Mitchell, Squamish has relatively few firefighters compared to towns of a similar size and risk.

"At any given time during business hours, all the career firefighters are on duty and although volunteers can be paged, early morning and business day responses by volunteers are limited," Mitchell wrote in the master plan. "In the mid-term, it is recommended that the district increase career staffing to provide a second day shift of career staff to ensure continuous, seven-day per week coverage on day shifts on a rotating basis."

The Whistler Fire Rescue Service has 21 career firefighters and a support team of 50 paid-on-call firefighters.

Mitchell was at the meeting and he presented highlights from the report. He answered questions with members of his consulting team and Squamish Fire Chief Russ Inouye.

Ian McDonald, of Dave Mitchell & Associates, was asked by mayor Rob Kirkham if a drop in the community's insurance rating would result in a direct increase to the district in insurance costs.

McDonald said that wouldn't be the case but warned: "If you trade off and allow the fire department to degrade...the money that you save on taxes they (building and home owners) then end up paying to insurance companies, and it is often more than what you would spend to upgrade your fire department."

The draft master plan pointed to other concerns with Squamish's fire protection operations. The main fire hall needs to be replaced because the building is old and may fail during a major seismic event. Two key trucks are approaching 20 years of age and will have to be replaced soon. The fire department review also suggested replacement of an aging radio system.

The report authors pointed to the live-burn training facility at Firehall #1 as a jewel in the community. Inouye said the facility has been rented out to other departments for training and that can continue to happen but, said Inouye, a shortage of staff makes it difficult to offer the facility to other departments.

Mitchell said he would take the feedback he heard from the committee meeting with council and revise his report and present a final draft of the master plan in a few weeks.