As of Oct. 1, Field Fire Rescue informed Parks Canada they would no longer be providing road rescue service along the Trans-Canada Highway through Yoho National Park.
The department will now only be attending to structural fire calls.
Normally, the volunteer fire department would cover road rescue along the approximately 50 kilometre stretch of highway that runs through the national park.
But according to Patrick Cais, the acting fire chief of the Field fire department, it’s become a matter of comfort for the volunteer firefighters, who have been struggling to find a place to train their road rescue skills.
“We lost our training facility at the Boulder Compound, so we’ve not been able to practice auto extraction and road rescue for our senior members, or train our new members,” said Cais.
“That’s why as a department we are not comfortable responding on the highway.”
The department was under an interim agreement with Parks Canada.
According to Alex Kolesch of Parks Canada, the Field Fire Rescue had the vehicles they used for practice temporarily removed from the compound, but has since had one vehicle returned so that the department may continue to practice and undertake that service.
“We are very much committed to making sure there is emergency service response in Parks Canada,” said Kolesch.
“We’ll continue to work with our neighbours on a long-term solution and sustainable solutions, as Field is a small community that draws a lot of volunteers from a small population.”
Kolesch says there’s an agreement that in the interim, B.C. ambulance and STARS air ambulance will collaborate with Parks Canada staff to respond to emergencies when required.
He also says Golden Fire Rescue will respond as necessary, although Golden Mayor Ron Oszust disputes that.
“It’s Parks Canada’s responsibility to provide fire and road rescue just like it’s our responsibility for our area,” said Oszust.
“It’s not a part of our responsibility or mandate. I hope they negotiate and have conversations with Field Fire Rescue to continue providing those services.”
Oszust says once the town gets a formal request from Parks Canada to provide service to the area, it can be brought before council, but that proposal is yet to be received. The earliest that would happen now is Oct. 20.
In the meantime, Cais says Field continues to talk with Parks Canada and negotiate an extension to their current interim contract, which expires at the end of October.
He says when negotiating, the fire department will be open to the possibility of restoring road rescue service, depending on the comfort levels of his volunteers.
He hopes to find a permanent fire chief, a role that has been vacant since June 2019, a hiring that would help the department organize itself and rebound from a tough year.
“It’s really important for us just to have a strong fire department that can respond and be able to offer this service,” said Cais, echoing Kolesch’s statements on commitment to safety.
“It would help take a load off of our volunteers who have given so many hours to the department.”
While the Field fire department and Parks Canada are separate entities, the two work together to provide coverage and sustainable solutions to road rescue service.
There has also been an ongoing audit of the Field fire department, with Cais saying they’ve been reviewing and discussing with Kolesch to find a long-term solution, although that process is still ongoing.