COLUMN: Why Nelson needs a paid fire department
The new year continues with budget deliberations for all city departments. Many issues come under more scrutiny such as our protective services, fire & rescue, police and bylaw officers. The Nelson Police Department has reached a bargained agreement for the first time in recent memory, but if our fire fighters do not get a negotiated agreement it will be going to binding arbitration.
The police and fire departments cannot go on strike because according to provincial legislation, if an agreement is not reached between the parties then the dispute goes to binding arbitration. While not a perfect situation, the city and council do not have a choice if an agreement is not negotiated. It has to go to binding arbitration under the Community Charter.
Some people are concerned with the cost, but there are many reasons to have a paid fire & rescue department in Nelson. City property insurance is less with a paid fire department. There have been two serious fires in Nelson over the last few years that our fire department was able to respond immediately. The Red Fish Grill fire next to the Bank of Commerce could have resulted in the loss of the north end of the block, including Wait’s News and the Hume Hotel, without superb action by the Nelson fire department personnel. If the department had to call in volunteers a worst case scenario might have occurred.
Also, as indicated in a recent article in the Star, Nelson is in the top ten lists of the cities at risk of wildfire in BC. This year the wildfires in Fort McMurray and in Tennessee show how fires can advance at a rapid pace leaving little time to evacuate an area or city.
Having a fire department at the ready with an evacuation plan and the personnel on hand ready to execute the evacuation plan is essential. A number of rural fire departments have volunteers who are paid for training, but sometimes it is hard to recruit volunteers and a lot of them have other jobs, so it can be difficult for them to respond fully in a timely manner.
As in hospitals and emergency rooms that must staff for “what if something happens?” there always needs to be the personnel to cover emergencies. Unfortunately all protective services are expensive, but people in an emergency situation do not question the cost when they need the immediate help.
Fortunately, the summer of 2016 was fairly moist, but that may not be the case in 2017. While deliberations continue with the budget discussions, and bearing costs in mind, there is always a need for our paid protective services to keep our city safe. So with that in mind, best wishes for a happy New Year to all the city staff as well as the general public.