A decision by RDCK fire officials to stop driving their large fire trucks across a private bridge has left a group of Pass Creek homeowners frightened for their properties and their lives.
According to RDCK fire chief Nora Hannon, the bridge providing access to a group of properties on Mountain Ridge Road does not have a current engineer-verified load rating for large fire apparatus.
The situation came to the attention of the RDCK in January when a different property owner in the area made a request to be included in RDCK fire protection. During the process, RDCK officials discovered the status of the bridge.
A quick decision was made by Hannon and residents were notified by hand-delivered letters on Jan. 16 that the Pass Creek Fire Department would no longer cross the bridge with large fire apparatus or provide fire suppression to the Mountain Ridge Road area. However, the department would continue to respond to medical emergencies.
The area does not have fire hydrants and all fire suppression activities require water tankers to shuttle water to a fire, potentially crossing the bridge numerous times.
Hannon also says that, under the discretion of the incident commander, hand lines and personnel may be deployed over the bridge for fire suppression to nearby properties.
The letter states that the decision was not made lightly, however the safety of RDCK firefighters was paramount.
The decision affects 22 properties.
Vanessa Terwoort, a representative of the Mountain Ridge Road Users Cooperative Association (MRRUCA), says the decision caught the community by surprise and left them speechless and scared.
Terwoort says a new load rating for the bridge will cost MRRUCA $10,000 per year and replacing the bridge could cost between $100,000 and $250,000.
She says there have been three house fires in the community in the last five years and a number of other smaller events such as car fires and lightning strikes.
“We have an entire community of men, women and children that are at risk of losing their homes and potentially their lives based on a decision made in a coupe of hours on a Friday afternoon, without any supporting documentation that this is a standard regulated policy and with no factual indications that there is any structural risk associated with our bridge,” says Terwoort.
But the fire chief says the responsibility for certifying the bridge’s safety falls to the property owners.
Hannon says that fire services will be restored to the area once the RDCK is provided with proof of the bridge’s load capacity.
The situation has prompted the RDCK to look into all privately owned bridges and develop a new policy regarding fire services and the bridges. That policy was adopted on Feb. 26.
Residents with private bridges are now required to provide a letter of assurance that includes proof of inspection and certification by a qualified professional engineer.
Hannon says letters have been sent to affected property owners and she expects the review process to be complete within the next month.
Going forward, the RDCK will not be sending large fire apparatus over any bridge for which a verified load rating supporting those apparatus cannot be provided.
That may mean there will be more people in the same situation as the Mountain Ridge Road community.