On June 23, residents of Loon Lake will take part in an assent vote (referendum) on whether or not the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) should create a fire protection service area in the community, and whether or not the TNRD should be authorized to borrow an amount not exceeding $653,000 for the construction of two fire halls for the Loon Lake fire protection service.
Loon Lake’s former fire hall was destroyed in the 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire.
Loon Lake is one of five unincorporated TNRD communities that would see their volunteer fire department (VFD) become a TNRD-administered VFD. Residents of McLure and South Green Lake will also be taking part in referendums on June 23, while residents of Tobiano and Little Fort are taking part in a petition process, which ends at noon on July 6.
The volunteer fire departments in these communities are currently run by independent societies, with funds raised through taxation by the TNRD, but new rules and regulations mandate that for them to continue to be funded that way they must become TNRD-administered by the end of 2022.
The Spences Bridge VFD was not included in the discussion, as it is not administered by the TNRD, but by the Spences Bridge Improvement District, a separate entity.
A straw poll conducted at a public meeting in Loon Lake on April 17 asked the question “Are you in favour of the TNRD conducting a formal assent process to determine approval for the establishment of a TNRD-administered fire protection service?” Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour.
Ron Storie, director of community services for the TNRD, says that a number of things over several years have prompted this move.
“A provincial review in 2009/10 identified three major things for rural fire departments: more training, more recruitment and retention, and administration.
“The Office of the Fire Commissioner has also said that [VFDs run by societies] have no access to private properties. There’s the possibility of death or injury, or the risk of property damage. Over the years, things have become more litigious toward societies.”
Storie also cites the high cost of necessary equipment, such as fire engines. “The TNRD has access to cheaper rates, through the Municipal Finance Authority, for borrowing money for equipment.”
The Loon Lake VFD was facing difficult decisions due to changing legislation relating to the provision of fire protection. Funding has not been sufficient to meet the new legislative requirements, such as supply and maintenance of equipment, training, administrative support, and WorkSafe BC.
Due to the liability issues presented by society-operated fire departments, the TNRD will discontinue funding such departments as of December 31, 2022, but has agreed to pursue the establishment of a TNRD-administered fire protection service if that is what communities would like it to do.