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No provincial funding for new Revelstoke highway rescue truck

Revelstoke fire chief Rob Girard shows all the highway rescue equipment that was transferred to a leased rescue truck. - Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review
Revelstoke fire chief Rob Girard shows all the highway rescue equipment that was transferred to a leased rescue truck.
— image credit: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review

There will be no money coming from Victoria to pay for a new road rescue truck, and that leaves local officials looking for the cash to pay for the new vehicle.

Rescue One was heavily damaged in a crash on the Trans-Canada Highway on Dec. 20, 2013. The cost to repair the truck is estimated to be near the value of the 13-year-old vehicle so Revelstoke Fire Rescue Services is looking at buying a new truck.

The question is how it’s going to be paid for. The province says road rescue isn’t in its mandate, so it won’t pay, and the city doesn’t want to fund for a service that operates almost entirely outside its boundaries.

That has fire chief Rob Girard looking for funding sources for a vehicle that could cost several hundred thousand dollars. That could come from grants, corporate sponsorships or even good old fashioned bake sales and raffles, he said.

“You just go to start turning stones to find out where these grants are available,” said Girard. “I see it as a grant writing exercise, but it’s not going to be an easy exercise by any means.”

As far as Mayor David Raven is concerned, highway rescue is a provincial responsibility. He used the term numerous times during an interview about the matter.

“They’re picking up people off a provincial highway. It’s actually a federal-provincial [highway]. It’s the Trans-Canada. It’s the number one highway. Where does it become the responsibility of the community?” he said. “In my mind, and I feel quite strongly for this, it’s a provincial responsibility to fund those programs.”

The Revelstoke Times Review requested an interview with an official from Emergency Management BC to discuss the road rescue program. Instead, we got e-mailed a statement from Gord Anderson, the province’s assistant deputy fire commissioner.

The statement explained the province’s position on highway rescue, saying that road rescue was not mandated in B.C.

“There is no requirement for a community to provide them and in many areas across B.C., they are not,” Anderson wrote. “However, many local authorities see it as a community investment or civic responsibility, even in neighbouring corridors directly outside their municipal boundaries, because they are considered an important extension of their community frequently used by the people who live, work, invest and visit their towns and cities.”

For that reason, the province does not fund road rescue equipment. He said communities were not obligated to provide those services and if they do chose to provide it, it is up to them to purchase the necessary equipment.

“Where communities like Revelstoke realize the value of traffic to and through their communities, particularly in corridors like the Trans-Canada, which is linking communities to a large number of tourists, the local authorities often see benefit in providing services like road rescue beyond their municipal boundaries. And because we see value in the service they provide, we assist them by providing road rescue service providers with funding to offset operating costs,” he wrote.

Organizations that offer road rescue service receive a $300 per hour reimbursement from the province. The provincial funding covers basic operating costs, but not expensive capital costs like equipment repairs or replacement.

For Mayor David Raven, that explanation doesn’t wash. Road rescue is not a service just for Revelstokians, but for the thousands of people who travel on the Trans-Canada every day.

“We’re going to lobby because we think it’s their responsibility. We think it’s something the province should be paying for,” he said. “Somebody who drives up from Vancouver should have some fiscal commitment to funding those programs.”

Revelstoke’s is not alone in its struggles with providing road rescue services. In Golden, the service stopped for several months in 2012 after Golden and District Search and Rescue stopped doing road rescue. According to Golden Mayor Christina Benty, GADSAR was struggling to keep its volunteers involved in road rescue as they were more interested in backcountry rescue.

“The other thing was funding. They weren’t reimbursed appropriately,” she said. “They were having difficulty maintaining their equipment and that wasn’t working for them.”

In Golden, the town’s fire department offered to take on the service in order to give its volunteer firefighters more to do. The town, however, didn’t want to incur any costs for road rescue outside its boundaries, said Benty. As a result, they negotiated a higher reimbursement rate from the province.

Still, the higher rate doesn’t include equipment, and she said that would continue to be a point of discussion.

“What I can say is that from a political perspective, we’re pleased we have road rescue services in this area, because there was some concern,” Benty said. “Given the nature of where we live and the volume of traffic traveling through our community, I can’t imagine those services not being available on the highways.”

She said there were talks with the province about getting funding for equipment.  “We need to make sure that the equipment is funded appropriately. It is a service we’re providing outside municipal boundaries.”

A few years ago, Invermere found itself in a similar situation to Revelstoke after its rescue truck was totaled. With no money coming from the province, a major fundraising campaign was launched by the local Lion’s Club.

“We couldn’t get any funding even from Parks Canada and we do a lot of highway rescue out in the park, same as what Revelstoke does,” said Invermere fire chief Roger Ekman.

It took the community 18 months to raise the $500,000 required to buy a new rescue truck, he said.

Norm Macdonald, the MLA for Columbia River–Revelstoke, has said in the past that road rescue should be a provincial responsibility.

Right now in Revelstoke, highway rescue is being run using a leased vehicle that Emergency Management BC is paying for at the tune of $4,500 per month, said Girard. The lease for that expires in three months and after that, he isn’t sure what will happen to highway rescue.

“Trying to secure a vehicle or have vehicles repaired, or whatever the case may be, is not going to happen within three months,” he said.

The volunteer firefighters have expressed an desire to continue the service. “We are disappointed a more permanent solution cannot be found in a timelier manner,” said Brad Faucett, a volunteer firefighter and president of the Revelstoke Fire Rescue Society, in a news release.

 

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