DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — A robust discussion on fire service needs was had by the Peace River Regional District at their July 20 board meeting following a presentation on a feasibility study for a regional fire training centre.
Project Manager Dan Blackburn with Transitional Solutions Inc. presented the study’s findings, answering questions and concerns from PRRD directors.
The purpose of the study was to see if the PRRD would benefit from acquiring the Dawson Creek fire training centre and to examine models for the operation of the centre.
Blackburn said they consulted with ten fire services in the region — eight in-person and two virtually— to assess how training is currently delivered. Local departments already lean on each other, he noted.
“We realized early on that there was a strong regional fire service collaboration. So, the fire departments in the region, they’re all facing the same challenges, they are collaborating, and that’s one of the key factors that could make this successful,” said Blackburn.
Qualified training instructors already live in the Peace, he added, noting they could draw on their expertise. Blackburn also feels a regional training program is a more financially sustainable model, as opposed to departments holding individual programs.
The largest expense is sending firefighters away for practical training, noted Blackburn. The facility needs some work to be compliant as a training centre, with warped panels needing replacement, a new non-combustible pathway into the tower, and an optional concrete pad.
“The Dawson Creek fire training centre is adequate for that mission. It’s a very well-built facility, and it’s a great starting point for a regional training centre,” he said, noting departments have struggled with meeting minimum training standards since they were nationally implemented in 2014.
The College of the Rockies, Justice Institute of BC, and the Vancouver Island Emergency Response Academy are a few of the institutions relied upon for certifications, Blackburn said, noting each department usually has a preferred provider.
A full-time manager position would need to be created to operate a regional centre, says Blackburn, preferably someone with a background in fire service training. That person could oversee scheduling at the facility and report to protective services with the PRRD, while a minimum of four-man crews would be needed to host any training.
The Dawson Creek fire training centre was previously used by other regional fire services, said Blackburn, noting they found it difficult to justify the cost due to being legally obligated to use City of Dawson Creek staff.
“They found it a little bit expensive because they were paying the unionized firefighters to do the training,” Blackburn said, noting it resulted in Dawson Creek being the only department to use the facility.
The City of Dawson Creek has since offered management of the facility to the PRRD, which led to the feasibility study, added Blackburn.
“It’s a great resource, and it’s underutilized. And we’re spending a lot of money sending people away when we don’t really have to,” he said.
Taylor Mayor Brent Taillefer said the facility’s funding model is considerably higher than what they already spend to send their firefighters away for training, which is roughly $1,500 for each member, including flights, hotel, and the training itself.
“This facility is, for Taylor, too far away to come for an evening training, it would have to be a weekend training that we would have to do, which is what we currently do when we send people down to Comox,” he said. “So, I just want to address that. I don’t see it being cheaper.”
The funding model proposed by the study breaks down costs by municipality as follows, with an annual operating cost and a one-time capital investment cost:
- Dawson Creek / Pouce Coupe – annual of $118,435 and capital investment of $405,212.
- Hudson’s Hope Fire Protection Only – annual of $4,690 and capital fee of $11,355.
- Tumbler Ridge – annual of $27,079 and capital fee of $65,569.
- Chetwynd – annual of $32,245 and capital $85,341.
- Taylor – annual of $27,071 and capital of $65,548.
- Moberly Lake Protection – annual of $1,681 and capital of $4,070.
- Toms Lake Fire Protection Area – annual of $15,098 and capital of $36,558.
- Charlie Lake Fire Protection Area – annual of $41,828 and capital of $101,282.
In total, it would cost local municipalities just under a million dollars or $927,626 to create the regional training centre under the PRRD, not including other management expenses.