1. #1
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    Question Close To Home On Several Counts

    Both as a volly and the fact that North Saanich/Sidney was (is) Home for me.

    Joining fire forces mulled

    Consolidation could cut costs, councillor says; others disagree

    By Richard Watts, Times Colonist August 19, 2009 1:03 AM

    It's time to examine the pros and cons of consolidating the four fire departments on the Saanich Peninsula, a Central Saanich councillor said yesterday.

    "Let's get real and let's look at the efficiencies," said Coun. Ron Kubek in a telephone interview.

    "From the customer point of view and the taxpayer point of view, it's something we should look at." Shared equipment and firehalls and a reduced need for some staff could all potentially yield savings, said Kubek, who proposed at Monday's council meeting that municipal staff approach North Saanich, Sidney and Victoria International Airport to discuss greater co-operation and even consolidation of fire departments. The motion passed.

    Inspections have revealed that Central Saanich's firehall, attached to the municipal hall on Mount Newton Cross Road is not built to withstand an earthquake. According to a report prepared for council last May, repairs and operational upgrades could cost up to $10 million if other departments in the building, like police, are included.

    Also, Central Saanich Fire Department is a volunteer force in a community where it's difficult to find volunteers, compounding the problem of response times, which are now below standards demanded by rating agencies.

    Central Saanich Chief Ron French said agencies like the Municipal Insurance Authority and WorkSafe B.C. look for response times of four minutes for industrial properties and seven to nine minutes for residential. But Central Saanich response times run anywhere from eight to 14 minutes.

    But French said he isn't convinced joining up with the other municipal fire departments would improve service or even costs. Instead, he said, it would mean a bigger volunteer force with the same problems.

    "I don't think we will save any money," said French, who believes the best way to improve firefighting effectiveness on the peninsula is to move to a combined professional and volunteer force, which would increase costs rather than reduce them.

    "It will be a more costly model but it may build a better service." He said the road network in a rural district like Central Saanich already makes it tough to respond in a timely manner, but the shortage of volunteers makes it worse.

    French blamed the volunteer problem on the aging demographic and high cost of housing in Central Saanich. Young people typically can't afford to live in Central Saanich and chances are they don't work there.

    Meanwhile, French said call volumes are increasing to the point where the department now responds to about 1,000 calls a year. And volunteers are on call around the clock, every day.

    "It's getting to the point where it's, 'How much can you ask a volunteer to do?'" said French.

    Similar difficulties, particularly with recruiting volunteers, are also reported in North Saanich and Sidney.

    Yet North Saanich fire Chief Gary Wilton said providing coverage for the entire peninsula poses the same geographic challenges the three volunteer forces face, so there is little opportunity for efficiency and consolidation.

    "If people think it's going to be a cost savings, it won't," said Wilton, whose department has been approved to spend $1.2 million this year on a new garage and training station.

    In Sidney, Mayor Larry Cross said the only way he would consider consolidation would be if it meant no decrease in service and no increase in cost.

    Nonetheless, he said he was willing to talk. "We always want to co-operate." No comment was available from Victoria International Airport, but airport safety staffers are responsible only for aircraft. Airport buildings are the responsibility of North Saanich. {So what? They'll stand there and watch the Airport Terminal burn down, while waiting for it to cross the tarmack to the nearest parked aircraft? Somehow I don't think so. }

    rwatts@tc.canwest.com

    Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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    In Sidney, Mayor Larry Cross said the only way he would consider consolidation would be if it meant no decrease in service and no increase in cost.
    You have a better chance of seeing one of FH.com's yellow bellied yard breathers charge into a fully involved structure with a garden hose and screaming "follow me, boys!...."
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
    Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY

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