Salmon Arm city council members and senior staff toured the wildfire service RapAttack Base, with the planned closure of its accommodation and catering services looming.
The base, located near the Salmon Arm airport, has been home to approximately 35 firefighters in past fire seasons. Catering services at the barracks are slated for closure on Jan. 1, 2017 and housing on Jan. 1, 2018.
The tour was guided by Madeline Maley, executive director of the B.C. Wildfire Service, fire service area manager Rob Schweitzer and Cliff Chapman a wildfire service employee who was once stationed at the base.
Chapman says after speaking with the crew that left at the end of the 2016 fire season, he didn’t think many would transfer to another base due to closure of food and accommodation services.
“I think we’re going to see a strong return in our crews when they come back not just next year, but in the coming years,” he said.
Along with touring the cabins and kitchen facilities which are earmarked for closure, the visitors saw the immaculately organized gear room, the helicopter landing zone, the rappel training tower and meeting rooms used for training by other groups as well as RapAttack.
Mayor Nancy Cooper expressed concerns that the firefighters will have difficulties finding a place to rent in Salmon Arm in the summer.
Maley said they would handle a lack of rental accommodation for firefighters when they encounter it but have been able to successfully house firefighters in other communities in the province.
The day after the tour, Cooper said she appreciated a chance to see the base but was not entirely reassured about Rapattack firefighters’ prospects for finding housing.
“I think they’re still going to have a hard time finding a place to live. I think we all know that in this area,” she said.
Cooper said the city would study rental vacancy in the area over the coming summer in hopes of providing information to B.C. Wildfire before the closure of on-base housing comes into effect in early 2018.
Maley said although BC Wildfire is constantly looking for ways to improve their operations, closure of the Salmon Arm base or moving the RapAttack unit to another community is not in the conversation.
“This location is good for us tactically,” she said.