The tax increases (some pay more than $2,000) for Willowbrook are a result of provincial government ineptness, but the real blame must lie with the regional district in knowing some time ago that this would be a major issue, but taking the standard “not my department” line.
This problem will not be unique to Willowbrook and will affect any area relying on a volunteer fire department. This becomes more pronounced with the departments servicing smaller populations to the point that they cannot function economically. These areas generally cannot rely on commercial or industrial revenue either. The result is that some will have to dissolve their fire departments and become fire brigades which will mean that house insurances will increase. These increases may be less than that of maintaining a fire department.
The frustrating thing here is that more than a year ago I was hearing about the changes in the provincial master fire plan and that it would be a major problem but the specifics were not clear. I am now hearing that fire chiefs in many areas were disillusioned with this plan and were voicing their thoughts but were not getting any support from the regional district with their concerns.
The fire chiefs are in a tough spot here as they are technically an employee of the district and fighting with the boss could and would prove counterproductive. (We need our chiefs; they are dedicated to our well-being but the district could replace them in a heart beat for not towing the line).
Along with numerous bureaucratic paper load and management changes, the provincial fire plan also mandated upgrading volunteer training to near that of full-time paid firefighters. That had fire chiefs warning that the training load was becoming too time-consuming and onerous for volunteers, and memberships will end up suffering. Reducing the maximum age of fire trucks (I believe there was other equipment in this also) is the biggest single cost issue. A required new fire truck can cost upwards of a million dollars; for small departments serving a few hundred families this is unreasonable and unattainable. This age limiting is on equipment that is amazingly well maintained and of very low use and continually inspected. In perspective, the sovereignty and security of our country is upheld with helicopters and aircraft much older and used constantly often in hostile environments.
While this was coming about the fire chiefs were raising red flags that were being downplayed. The only organization (the regional district) that at this point could defend the residents remained silent, knowing full well the economic consequence.
Every regional district with even one volunteer fire department should have been loudly hammering on the provincial government’s door, pushing the lobbyists for the insurance companies out of the way. This once again leaves the citizens to start this fight on their own. I was asked if this fight was winnable; well, it has to be as the alternative is not sustainable.
Rick Knodel, Willowbrook