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Whistler fire boundary issues clarified

WFRS can respond to calls outside municipality

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The Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) will continue to respond to fires just outside of its jurisdiction after the RMOW authorized it do so at last week's council meeting.

The decision came following a short presentation by Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood outlining the grey areas in which the WFRS did not have insurance coverage to respond.

The original agreements for out-of-municipality response were signed in 2001, when development on Whistler's outskirts was scarce.

"The intent for that response outside of the boundary was dealing with the motor vehicle accidents, dealing with car accidents, dealing with wildfires," Kirkwood said in an interview.

"At that time, there wasn't that development on the boundaries, and so it's different today."

The buildings at Whistler Olympic Park and the continued development of the WedgeWoods neighbourhood have provided some grey areas for the WFRS in recent years.

A recent report of a fire in WedgeWoods showed the need for an update.

"It turned out that it was a garbage debris fire, but it really highlighted that for us," Kirkwood said. "What if it was a house fire? It's not our jurisdiction, it's not our responsibility, but on the other hand we want to be good neighbours and do what we can."

There's also the risk of structure fires spreading to the wild should suppression not take place, Kirkwood said.

"It potentially puts the municipality at risk, so we really felt something needed to be done there," she added.

"Ultimately, we would like to see some kind of agreement in place with the (Squamish-Lillooet Regional District) to provide some level of service there."

Following her presentation, council authorized Kirkwood and the WFRS to continue to respond to emergency incidents outside of its jurisdiction.

"It's an important clarification," Kirkwood said. "We need to be authorized by council to respond outside to ensure that we have Municipal Insurance Association coverage as well as Worksafe BC coverage."

Council also authorized the RMOW to discuss fire response in areas bordering the municipality with the SLRD.

"I think we're in a sort of developing situation where some of those things will need to be addressed kind of in a concrete manner," said Councillor Roger McCarthy.

"If the SLRD has expectations that the RMOW is going to provide coverage beyond our boundaries, then we'll need to be recognized for that.

"The taxpayers that are covering those costs will need to understand that we're protecting their interests from a standpoint of cost recovery."

For David Ehrhardt, WedgeWoods' development manager, it was welcome news.

"From our perspective, it's great," he said. "I'm sure it's something that the folks out at WedgeWoods would be pleased to hear."

Roger Soane, CEO of Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL), was also pleased.

"Having a professional team that is willing to come out and help us and is covered and basically given authority to come out, that is very reassuring," he said.

In the event of a fire at Whistler Olympic Park, the WSL's first call is to the Garibaldi Fire Department, Soane said, adding that the team at Whistler Olympic Park is trained in firefighting and vehicles are stocked with fire suppression equipment.

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