The topic of first responders came up during the Electoral Area Directors Forum this week. One of the speakers was Becky Denlinger, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. Ms. Denlinger is also the Fire Commissioner for B.C. and spoke briefly around call volumes for fire departments.
During the discussion period it came out that there are many different models across B.C. as to how first responder calls are handled.
In a department were the members are paid, the trend is that the first responder calls are becoming the majority of the work. The fire fighters are there being paid and the current idea is that they need to be busy doing something, so they are dispatched on most every accident and ambulance call.
While in some respects this does justify having the current number of fire fighters on the payroll, it also drives the cost of the fire department up. In communities were the taxpaying public are already being asked to take on more and more costs, this becomes a very real issue at budget time.
In small communities were the fire department is manned by volunteers, the dispatch procedures are not consistent from area to area.
We were told in some communities the dispatch people refused to call the first responders even though they were the logical choice due to the length of time it would take for an ambulance to come.
In other areas the first responders were called for everything and the crews were overloaded. In both cases this is not a good situation.
We were also told that most small communities had difficulties around financing any sort of first responder program and as a result had not done so, even though there was a definite need.
In others, there is a fear that by putting a first responder program in place the community might lose the ambulance service that currently serves the area. This is not true, as the first responders are not permitted to transport the people that they are helping, so the ambulance service is of course still required.
A person that I had spoken to last year on the topic of first responders said that I was against the idea. I explained that this was not true. I feel that there is a definite need for the program, but I was against local tax payers being forced to pay for the service.
The province has the responsibility to provide health care, not local government. If there was to be a first responder program in an area, then funding should be sourced in a different manner than property taxation.
This would be done at least until the system can be changed and the program paid for from the appropriate revenue source.
Back when Barriere decided to have a local volunteer Fire Department, a group of dedicated individuals banded together to raise the funds required to buy the proper equipment and train volunteers to do fire fighting.
Today the Barriere Volunteer Fire Department is funded through local and regional property taxation and provides service to quite a large area.
If it was not in place during the fires of 2003, I fear that we would have lost much of the community.
Some of our local volunteer fire fighters have taken the appropriate training to provide first responder services here in Barriere.
What remains to be done now is to find a way to properly equip and fund this service so that they can do what is needed.
I ask that everyone please remember that this will not cause Barriere to lose our local ambulance, as the first responders cannot transport patients.
Budget discussions are being held all across B.C. and there are many different levels of proposed increases being put forth.
To be honest, I have yet to find a community that is holding the line on property taxes.
There have been increases in the cost of fuel, electricity and wages all across the province and any recently incorporated municipality or town is facing paying for their roads and other infrastructure costs that can be quite staggering.
Hard decisions need to be made here in Barriere to keep taxes in line.