A 2016 referendum on fire protection in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Area E/West Boundary will, if the “Yes” side is successful, be the first such result in five attempts.
This was one of the points of discussion at a meeting organized by Director Vicki Gee, which attracted over 100 residents to the Rock Creek fairground pavilion on Monday evening to hear Gee and others discuss emergency preparedness and fire protection.
Coming on the heels of the Rock Creek fire, the meeting was actually one that Gee had envisioned prior to the wildfire, but was given particular relevance because of the blaze and residents’ desire to do everything possible to avert another such disaster.
The meeting was somewhat unusual in its structure, whereby Gee spoke for about 30 minutes and then asked the attendees to become directly involved in the process by visiting one of four tables that had been allocated specific subjects of discussion, with the possibility of forming committees to further study the matter of their choice. While some residents did depart the meeting at the start of the interactive segment, those that remained were very active in conversation and helped make the event an overall success.
Gee began by outlining the current fire protection status for the Rock Creek area, including the expansion of the Midway fire department’s jurisdiction to Kettle Valley, though this is a “fee for service” fire protection, which leaves many without protection at all. “That system does not sit well with anyone, including the fire department,” said Gee. “Knowing that there’s protection for some but not for everyone simply isn’t right.”
She also highlighted that one of the major benefits of Rock Creek’s combining with Midway’s fire protection service is that the Village of Midway would be a strong partner with the ability to provide administrative support, and looking at a joint service would negate the necessity of the regional plan to start from the ground up.
“That puts a whole new twist on the situation,” said Gee, “and it also allows for the possibility of having a home-base fire hall with a satellite, and that makes it a completely different picture as far as funding is concerned.”
Gee said that over $200,000 in gaming money had been brought to the area since the last referendum in 2011, which had been used for resources, materials and training. “There are now fire trucks in the Kettle Valley area, and the two communities combined have 31 volunteer firefighters, which puts the area in a pretty good position to be able run a home base and a satellite fire hall.
“This alliance means that the satellite hall does not have to be a full-fledged hall. It doesn’t have to have have meeting rooms; it can be just a place for storage and washrooms and a place for volunteers to wash up.”
Also in attendance as round-table moderators were Sandy Mark, who was there to provide expertise in the area of grants, which will be needed to help fund the construction of the satellite hall, proposed for the current Forward Attack Base in Kettle Valley, and local firefighting trainer Darren Hutchinson, a strong advocate for the program known as FireSmart, designed to help make communities more resilient in the event of wildfires.
Hutchinson’s table attracted a lot of interest and resulted in the tentative establishment of FireSmart groups in Bridesville, Sidley, Westbridge, Hulme Creek, Christian Valley and sections of Rock Creek.
The upcoming plebiscite, ultimately, will determine the face of fire protection in the Rock Creek area for the forseeable future, and Gee is hopeful that the vote is in favour of a more equitable fire service for rural residents.