September 23, 2011 at 3:37 PM
Chief outlines priorities for fire department
The Sechelt fire department wants to improve its training site, increase the size of the fire hall and decrease the number of calls to assist the B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS).
Fire Chief Bill Higgs outlined the department’s needs while giving an annual report to Sechelt councillors Sept. 14.
Higgs said a spike in calls to assist the BCAS over the last four years has stretched resources thin at the volunteer department.
“Over the last four years those calls have gone up basically about 400 per cent,” Higgs said.
He said due to cutbacks, BCAS often looks to the firefighters for assistance, rather than sending a second ambulance to the scene of a traffic accident.
“It’s a very significant issue for the fire service all over British Columbia right now, as I believe the BCAS is looking to cut their costs as much as they can and they tend to download it on the backs of our volunteer firefighters,” Higgs said.
Mayor Darren Inkster said council will do what they can to help solve the problem.
“I can guarantee you that we can bring that issue, as long as you get me a letter, to the BCAS at [Union of British Columbian Munici-palities],” Inkster said.
Higgs said he has also spoken to E-Comm, the dispatch centre for emergency services, to stop the calls from coming in to the fire department.
“I ramped it up three or four notches up the food chain to the senior supervisor for the ambulance dispatch and the E-Comm fire dispatch to make sure that this stuff gets stopped in its tracks and we just say ‘that’s not a level of service the fire department can provide.’ It just isn’t,” Higgs said.
He said his firefighters are well trained, going to an average of 40 practices a year, compared to the provincial mandate that says volunteers must attend at least 27 practices annually.
To further improve that training, Higgs wants to expand the training site beside the Sunshine Coast Regional District transit offices on Mason Road.
“For the last 20 years we’ve been investing $10,000, $15,000 a year to the site to secure it, gravel it, level it, put some basic infrastructure in place,” he said. “Over the next six years now we’re going to escalate that somewhat and spend a fair amount of funds up at that site to finish that off to the benefit of our firefighters.”
The department saved about $600,000 by purchasing a used fire truck last year and Higgs plans to apply those savings to the improvements at the training site. Once the site is completed, the department will offer its training facility for use by other firefighters on the Coast.
Higgs said the department is also still fundraising for an addition to the fire hall to house their historic 1963 fire engine and create an expanded training room upstairs.
The Sechelt Volunteer Firefighters Association has been selling calendars for the last few years to raise money for the addition, estimated at $100,000.
“So far I think we’ve made about $20,000 on calendars and we’re hoping to do a bit better this year,” Higgs said, noting 2012 calendars are on sale now.
In an effort to save the fire department some money, Higgs has been talking with a local developer who may replace the aging rental house behind the fire hall. The department purchased that property about 20 years ago to add a rental revenue stream, but the building is estimated to be more than 80 year old and is nearing the end of its life.
“So of course me being the frugal guy that I am, I’ve been looking at a way of not losing that rental income stream. So I’ve been approaching the Pacific Spirit people about that little display suite they have there,” he said. “They seem to be pretty benevolent towards the fire department and are looking at donating that structure to us, which is probably a $120,000 structure, for me to replace that house that’s behind the fire station.”
The shape of the building would lend itself to allowing more parking behind the fire hall as well, which Higgs said is needed.
“We’ll get our parking, we’ll get our house, we’ll keep our rental income stream and it won’t cost us a bean. So, you know me, I love that kind of stuff,” Higgs said.