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Sunshine Coast regional departments prepare for off-Coast forest fire calls

Should the Coast ever need to call in fire fighting resources from elsewhere, it might be areas that we have helped in the past that send firefighters and equipment our way, according to the SCRD's protective services manager. 
(Left to Right) Sunshine Coast Volunteer firefighters Graham Webb, Jamie Webb, and Lieutenant Chris Facchin were a part of the crew that was sent to Fort St. John in early May, 2023 to help control the wildfire.

Equipped, trained and ready to travel. That’s how Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) Gibsons fire chief Rob Michael would describe firefighters from the Coast’s regional departments when BC Wildfire puts out calls for assistance.

To be ready for any such deployments in 2024, elected officials recommended the board approve continued support for SCRD firefighters to respond to requests for help with urban interface fires. That came at the SCRD’s May 9 committee of the whole meeting. Board consideration of the matter is slated for May 23.

“Our local region remains our priority,” Michael stated in his briefing to the committee members. He reported such deployments have happened on the Coast since 2003 and described how the chiefs of the various departments discuss options when requests for assistance are received. They consider how sending personnel and apparatus will affect the capacity to respond locally. 

What does this involvement cost the Coast?

There were six BC Wildfire deployments from the region's fire departments in 2023.

Michael explained that the regional district is reimbursed if personnel are deployed by BC Wildfire, with those rates reviewed regularly to ensure local governments are not paying the costs of the deployments.

Concerns were raised about how demands from this external agency could add even more pressures on local volunteers. An increased potential for volunteer burnout was something Elphinstone area director Donna McMahon questioned, especially, she said, given the marked increase in local calls for service to fire departments in recent years.

Michael said those risks were real and factored in when decisions about off-Coast deployments were made. He emphasized that departments can decline to send resources if the situation should dictate that is the best decision for their area. But, he said all involved in deployment decisions value the benefits for local departments realized by taking on such assignments. The first-hand experience gained by personnel, he said, enhances their skills, experience and understanding of firefighting. He also stressed that only volunteers who are officially trained for such assignments are eligible for deployments.

Michael emphasized that should the Coast ever need to call in resources from elsewhere, it might be areas that we have helped in the past who send firefighters and equipment our way.   

In discussion, staff advised the committee that carrying costs for regional departments to have reserve apparatus (such as trucks, pumps or structure protection systems) is to be addressed in a post fire season report to committee. That capital cost review is slated to be considered in advance of 2025 budget finalization.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Rob Michael was the manager of protective services. He is in fact the Gibsons fire chief. We regret the error.