Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors are pressing for a more robust road rescue service, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
While directors were unanimous in their support for staff assessing the current situation and bringing a report back to the board, some are pressing for quick results.
Electoral Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok and Area D director Rene Talbot believe outfitting regional district fire halls would be a timely and efficient way to get a road rescue service up and running in their respective areas.
“Time is life and anything that can be done to shorten response time is going to save lives,” Demenok said, noting Cruikshank Point, the intersection of Balmoral Road and the Trans-Canada Highway, and Kault Hill are frequent accident scenes. “I understand there would be a lot of support in our community for this and I know there is support in our fire halls.”
“Sooner or later someone is gonna die because they can’t get there in time,” said Talbot, noting rescue service to Falkland is dispatched from Vernon. “How would you like to lie in a vehicle for over an hour? I want to see this happen and the fire halls want to do it.”
Newly elected Area F director Jay Simpson was in agreement.
“We get our service from Chase,” he said. “Some places in my area are two to three hours away from help, so I would like to move this further along.”
But Derek Sutherland, CSRD’s team leader protective services, said staff did not agree with enabling willing fire halls to provide emergency services, a recommendation contained in a recent road rescue feasibility study commissioned by the regional district.
“CSRD staff would alternatively suggest that the board advocate for the province to take a more proactive role in the development and maintenance of road rescue services and provide support to the sustainability of the societies that are currently offering the service.
As well, CSRD chair Rhona Martin pointed out that firefighters join their departments to fight fires, not accidents.
“The District of Sicamous is well-served by a society and it is a (financial) struggle for them,” she said, noting all aspects must be considered, not just budgetary. “I also have concerns about the trauma they see that is lifelong. They sign up to fight fires, do you really want them to be doing this?”
Martin also pointed out that road rescue cannot simply be provided by adding a new bylaw. And she expressed concerns about the potential expenses as provincial funding is drying up.
This fact was illuminated at a charitable function on Dec. 1 where Salmon Arm Rescue Unit president Tim Alstad made an appeal for funding to repair the organization’s Jaws of Life and work towards a new rescue truck.
“The repair portion is between $20,000 and $30,000, the cost of a new hydraulic extrication system can vary between $80,000 and $150,000 and a new rescue truck could exceed $150,000,” he said.
Alstad noted the Salmon Arm Rescue Unit has the only Jaws of Life equipment in the area and provides highway rescue for injured people trapped in motor vehicles primarily on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Salmon Arm to about halfway to Sicamous, west of Salmon Arm to Hilltop Road in Sorrento and south on Highway 97A to the 97B turnoff.
He said the rescue unit is usually able to maintain equipment, but the main annual fundraiser, the Demolition Derby, had to be cancelled in 2018 due to a lack of participants.
Back at the Dec. 7 board meeting, Darcy Mooney, CSRD’s manager of management services, said staff needs to look at the entire system.
“Could we provide it through bylaws? It would have to be standalone service outside of the fire service,” he said, noting some rescue units are disbanding because members don’t get paid for the work they volunteer to do 24/7, 365. “It’s not to say we couldn’t do it. We’re simply saying we want to work with existing rescue societies within the Shuswap to determine strengths and weaknesses, what’s working, what’s not and what would it look like if CSRD takes it over.”
Salmon Arm Coun. Chad Eliason pointed out the motion on the table was to ask staff for a report rather than asking them to proceed with implementation.
And he advised caution, noting the province should be paying for the cost of road rescue, not downloading it to municipal governments.
”I will vote in favour (of the motion) but have the same concern as Chad,” added Salmon Arm Coun. Kevin Flynn, pointing out he would like to know more about the liability involved in providing road rescue service. “If we’re envisioning it being regional, it should be done in conjunction with the municipalities.”
Chief Administrative Officer Charles Hamilton was forthright in sharing his concerns.
“There are profound implications for fire departments whose members are paid-on-call,” he said, noting costs would rise substantially if, for example, 100 to 150 rescue calls were suddenly added to the average 50 calls per year experienced by the fire departments. “Salmon Arm uses a society because of the cost. If you have no concern about fire department budgets, then this is the fastest way to get the service running.”
The board was unanimous in directing staff to proceed with a report, which Mooney says should be ready for the board sometime in the spring.