Wildfires in the Cariboo destroyed hundreds of hectares of trees in 2017. Some rural fire departments are in need of basic equipment to continue fighting fires. Karen Powell/Observer file photo

Wildfires in the Cariboo destroyed hundreds of hectares of trees in 2017. Some rural fire departments are in need of basic equipment to continue fighting fires. Karen Powell/Observer file photo

UPDATE: Red Cross agrees to fund rural fire departments in the Cariboo

The move comes after North Cariboo MLA Coralee Oakes drew attention to lack of resources

  • Jul. 26, 2018 12:00 a.m.

UPDATE:

The Red Cross has come through with funding for rural volunteer fire departments in the Cariboo.

The organization has agreed to help with a bulk order of coveralls, helmets and gloves for the fire departments in need with $28,000 in funding, says Jackie Sarginson, administrative assistant to Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes.

“The Red Cross had a meeting with the fire commissioner and they have agreed to help,” she says.

The Red Cross will now contact the five unincorporated volunteer fire departments to get size information. Sarginson says the Red Cross must then follow channels to get three price quotes, and go from there.

“[This is a] good first step and gets us in the queue for other needs like hoses and water bladders,” MLA Oakes said via email.

“The larger equipment asks will be longer in arranging, but it is being worked on,” comments Sarginson.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Rural volunteer fire departments in the Cariboo are finding themselves low on basic equipment, with B.C.’s wildfire season upon them.

Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes says she’s been trying to find funding for local departments for months.

“Small ones like McLeese Lake, Tyee Lake, Likely, Horsefly … they raise money doing bottle drives and garage sales. They are not supported through taxation,” says Oakes. Larger municipal volunteer fire departments often receive funding through local tax programs.

These rural departments are in need of equipment including gloves, coveralls and hard hats. They require $28,000 at a minimum, and up to $70,000 to fund additional equipment like new hoses.

“That’s for the whole region. Not a lot of money in the context of what type of money I’ve seen go out. It means that these communities are equipped to respond.

“What we discovered last year with the wildfires, you need different types of gear, and bladder tanks and things like that. We’ve been saying, ‘Let’s get them ready,'” says Oakes.

Oakes says the volunteer fire department in Horsefly recently put out a fire caused by lightning strikes after storms on July 17 and 18, demonstrating how small departments can have a big impact come wildfire season.

“If we don’t have volunteer fire departments in our smaller remote communities, it puts a stronger strain on the system.”

The MLA says she has raised the issue with Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth as well as Red Cross.

“I had a meeting with Red Cross [this week], they said they are coming out with some policies… by the time they come out with policies, we are going to be into winter, and its just not good enough.”

Elysia Dempsey, Red Cross director of the emergency management program for B.C. and Yukon, says the Red Cross doesn’t have specific funding for firefighters, but its Community Partnerships Program can provide grants to organizations for projects related to the 2017 wildfires. The program does not have a minimum or maximum amount that organizations must request.

“[The program] is for places like fire departments to be able to apply for grant funding. We’ve been running the program since almost the beginning of the wildfire response,” says Dempsey.

Registered charities, not-for-profit organizations, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, schools, school boards, Indigenous Peoples organizations and faith-based organizations can all apply for grants under the Community Partnerships Program. The main criteria is that the activity, project or initiative must directly support either a community affected by the 2017 British Columbia fires, or a population/group affected by the fires.

“We have had conversations with Coralee. This is where we are looking to have [rural fire departments] access funding, because they fit within this program,” says Dempsey.

READ MORE: Record number of recruits join Quesnel Fire Department


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