An audit of the Field Fire and Rescue Department has been completed, with the review looking to develop and recommend options to improve the sustainability of the emergency services delivered by the department in Yoho National Park.
The review presented four options for Parks Canada to consider.
According to Kathryn Cameron, president of the Field Recreation Advisory Association, Parks Canada has chosen to move forward with option four of the review, which would create a centralized operational support position to help guide and oversee the department. The position wouldn’t necessarily be located in Field.
Cameron doesn’t believe this goes far enough to address the issue and wants Parks Canada to also move forward with option two, which would see the creation of a full-time paid fire chief through Parks Canada.
The position would be located at the Field townsite office.
“Parks Canada’s solution misses entirely its operational responsibility,” wrote Cameron in a letter to Rick Kubian, who is superintendent for Lake Louise Yoho and Kootenay National Parks Field Unit.
“(There’s been) a sincere request for help to change a model that is unrealistic and unsustainable, to build a new model that provides operational leadership from within the organization, not leadership from an administrator who would not necessarily be based in Field nor would necessarily play an operational role.”
Patrick Cais, acting fire chief for Field Fire and Rescue, echoed her statement.
“By creating this position with Parks Canada, they respond to one side of it, which is the administrative part, but they are entirely missing the operational side of it,” said Cais.
“One of our issues is not having a leader, we have not had a fire chief for years.”
The department considers the hiring of a full-time chief the issue of the most importance, according to Cameron’s letter.
Alex Kolesch, senior advisor with Parks Canada, says he understands it’s a tough issue and with a community of 130 people it can be difficult to sustain a volunteer fire department.
According to Kolesch, one in every eight residents would have to volunteer with the department to make it sustainable.
Kolesch says by moving option four, Parks Canada is looking to relieve the administrative burden from the department, so that they can focus on training and response, which he says was a key concern of the department.
“Parks Canada heard loud and clear that was a key challenge for the chief and the creation of this support position will set us on a path to ensure that the department remains sustainable,” said Kolesch.
“Public safety is of the utmost importance to Parks Canada and we are looking at regional solutions and neighbouring jurisdictions.”
Cais counters that option two would provide the most immediate solution and that a combination of option two and option four would help long term sustainability.
He emphasized it’s important to not think of Field as your typical rural community.
Because of its location in the national parks and proximity to the highway, the department responds to more calls than a typical community of 130 people would.
He says that’s why the volunteer model is unsustainable.
“They don’t want to see the big picture, they keep saying they want to work with Lake Louise and Golden for other resources or options, but it’s not moving forward,” said Cais.
Field Fire and Rescue has extended its current contract with Parks Canada through March 31, according to Cais and will continue to provide fire suppression services. They will not be resuming road rescue.
“Because we don’t feel supported operationally, we don’t feel we should be on the highway,” said Cais.
Currently, outside departments are responding to road rescues on the highway, with the Golden Fire Department responding twice since Field ceased road rescue on Oct. 1.
Golden Mayor Ron Oszust has publicly stated this will not continue indefinitely, according Cameron’s letter.
Kolesch says the dialogue remains open between Parks Canada and the town on continuing to work towards a road rescue support solution.
He also said while they maintain communication with the Golden Fire Department, there are no specific proposals on the table yet for continued support.