Airport fire service an issue in Sandspit

  • Nov. 26, 2007 6:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay–Sandspit’s volunteer fire department is in dire need of extra funding, according to the local fire chief. Fire chief Robert Chisholm has requested an extra $12,000 in funding above the annual budget of $22,000, which the volunteer fire department receives from the regional district. The Moresby Island Management committee reviewed his proposal at its Nov. 14 meeting. The additional money is needed for training ($6,000) and gear ($4,500). One of the most immediate training requirements is for air-side and aircraft rescue and suppression, says Mr. Chisholm in his proposal. He says the force is without adequate training and would be unable to provide support in the event of an accident. Funding for the fire department comes out of the Regional District budget and a recommendation from MIMC must be sent before the board can approve any new tax requisitions. Committee members expressed concern that the few homeowners in Sandspit not be forced to take on the tax burden to cover the extra costs. Committee member Carol Wagner doesn’t see why the community should shoulder the cost for a service the entire islands need. She says sending a truck out to help a plane in distress is above and beyond the normal duties of a fire department. “They’re asking for a specific service,” she said. “If we’re supplying airport services, shouldn’t the federal government be paying for training?” she asked. Bob Ells, who was at the Nov. 14 meeting, is a member of the fire department, but he is also the federal government’s airport manager. He says an agreement was made 12 years ago, that the local fire department provide service, in exchange for all the equipment given to them when the airport closed its fire department. He says the government makes a payment in lieu of taxes that might be considered fee for service. Committee member Warren Foster said the document as presented did not provide enough information for him to make a decision. He said the cost of training courses was not included in the document. Other committee members suggested going to other sources to make up the additional cost. Mr. Foster admitted that the Gwaii Trust makes fire department funding a priority, but the proposal has to make sense. Mr. Ells told the Observer by telephone after the meeting that the airport does not require training, that is up to fire departments to decide, but different skills are needed. He says this issue is faced by fire departments across the province. “Ambulance and police have provincial funding and fire departments are left to whatever you can scrape together,” he said.