I don’t feel obligated to cover town council’s committee of the whole meetings. No actual decisions are made and therefore the meetings don’t generate much news. But they do provide background information that can be as helpful to my knowledge base as it is to the participants.
Last week I waffled about attending the Jan. 6 COTW meeting, but decided to go at the last minute. Short agenda, I thought. Won’t be too long. So I ambled up the hill to town hall and took my seat. Shortly afterward I was taken aback when even before the meeting was called to order the discussion turned to whether pizza should be ordered in if the meeting was to extend into the supper hour. Geez, I thought, it’s only 3 p.m. How long can this take?
After some routine business — council members providing direction to staff about a federal/provincial grant application — Creston Fire Rescue Chief Mike Moore began to prepare for his presentation and it became evident that it would not be brief. He and town staff had worked to put together a primer for a council that has five new members (although Joe Snopek was previously a mayor and councillor, it has been six years since he sat at the council table, so he too can be considered somewhat of a newbie).
I was glad I decided to attend. I didn’t even take the opportunity to duck out at 5 p.m. when Mayor Ron Toyota announced a break for snacks (no one wanted to order in supper). And when I finally left at almost 7 p.m. I was amazed at how much I had enjoyed the meeting. For two-and-a-half hours we were treated to a detailed and informative presentation of extremely high quality. A week later, I am still processing all that I learned.
How could I have been so naive, I wondered, at how I had never really made the connection between council decisions and my home insurance rates? How is that I didn’t have a clearer picture in my mind of how blending fire protection services in the Creston Valley would have an enormous benefit to all communities in the area?
Fortunately, those questions, and countless others, were answered fully and well in Moore’s presentation.
Did you know that the level of fire protection services — equipment, number of volunteers, training levels — that we have, which has been determined by town councils throughout the years, directly influences our fire insurance rates? Back up further and consider: Did you know that municipalities are not required to provide certified fire protection services at all? Nope, for all these years we could have been paying less in taxes and oh, about quadruple the insurance. All while hoping we could fight fires with garden hoses and extinguishers.
It’s no secret that it is become an increasingly great struggle to attract and maintain a trained volunteer firefighting force. (The word volunteer is a bit of a misnomer — they get paid, but for callouts. None are sitting around the station getting paid to be on standby.) But some huge and innovative strides have been taking to combat the challenge. The company that determines what levels of service we need to maintain our fire insurance rates says that a residential fire needs 13 trained firefighters to respond to a call (with more arriving to replace them if the blaze continues for more than about 50 minutes). It also says that, on average, it takes 39 volunteers on the roster to ensure that 13 will be available for a house fire call.
To put that in perspective, right now Creston has about 26 volunteers, Canyon-Lister about 18-20 and Wynndel has eight or less. The good news is that a recently signed mutual aid agreement means that all three departments can be called out to any fire in a defined area.
But wait, as the TV ads say, there’s more. A program set up here in Creston has led to the attraction of five firefighter trainees, recent grads from a U.S. program. They are being housed here for a year and put to work, at minimal cost (living expenses) to gain valuable hands-on experience. And, because they live right beside the fire hall and are in town nearly all the time, they count as the equivalent of three volunteers each.
These are only a few examples of the creativity and co-operation demonstrated by our three area fire departments. It has taken longer than it should have to get to this point — politics being what they are — and there remains much to be done. But it is heartening to me, as a resident and taxpayer, to know that smart, committed people are continually behind the scenes to make our community safer than it might be otherwise.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.