A group of ex-Fire Board Trustees have written a letter to the current trustees chastising them for not coming out in favour of incorporation after an attempt was made to strong arm them to do so. Our current trustees sensibly waited to hear what the “no” folks had to say. That group didn’t ask the Trustees to come out in favour of no. They requested that the Trustees remain neutral on the basis that there was nothing to support it being in their ratepayers’ interest for them to express a bias. The referendum itself would allow their ratepayers to indicate their preferences. In addition, the “no” group came with well-researched information about how the Fire Board could find additional funding without incorporating and advised that Fire Departments all over the province rarely receive major infrastructure grants from senior governments. The Trustees appeared grateful for the information and deferred the matter and subsequently decided to stay neutral.
Effective enforcement of fire bans and other fire regulations is certainly needed. However, there is a much simpler way of achieving by-law enforcement than the massive intrusion, expense (roads, policing, and staffing), and loss of our Local Trust Committee that would result from incorporation. Existing CRD bylaws would allow the Fire Chief, CRD bylaw enforcement officer, or the RCMP to issue tickets and levy fines for violations of a fire ban or other offences. The fire district would simply need to become a CRD local service area, perhaps under a CRD advisory Commission, a Local Community Commission, or a non-profit society contracting with the CRD. This can be achieved under our current unincorporated governance status. New fire department facilities could also receive gas tax and other grant funding through the CRD.
That aside, let’s take a look at the whole picture here. Firstly, we have some of the very trustees who thought we should abolish the Fire Board and take out more fire insurance now using our fears about forest fires and the importance of fire fighters to promote incorporation.
Secondly we have the people who tried to browbeat the current Fire Board into submission a month or so ago continuing the assault in their letter and apparently returning for yet another round at the next board meeting. This doesn’t sound like concern about brush fires to me, it sounds like politics.
The Open Letter to the Fire District Board of Trustees
It’s fire season. We can see it in our air from fires that are hundreds of miles away. In the summer, there is almost always a fire ban on Salt Spring. This year is no exception. In fact, this year, the risk is so high that the Fire Chief has even banned small campfires. Nevertheless, some people don’t or won’t follow the rules. The Fire Chief reports that it’s happened 13 times in July, and August isn’t likely to be better.
What happens on Salt Spring if somebody lights a fire or engages in other hazardous activity outside while the ban is on? A neighbour reports it and fire trucks roll. Firefighters have the legal authority to tell the firestarter to put the fire out and, if that’s not done, to put the fire out themselves. They educate the person about the risks and they leave. If the fire is re-lit, they come back, douse it again, and deliver another stern lecture. That is the practical extent of their legal authority, because they work for an improvement district, which provincial law gives virtually no enforcement authority.
Contrast this with what happens in a municipality if somebody lights a fire outside while a ban is on. Fire trucks will come, just like before. The first time, chances are there is just the same stern lecture about risks. The second time, bylaw enforcement comes along after the fire engines. Tickets get written. Fines get levied. The consequence for breaking the law and endangering your neighbours is more than having a finger wagged at you.
If everyone understands the risks and complies with rules enacted to protect the whole community, then governance structure doesn’t matter. Mix in a few rule breakers, and it matters a lot.
The Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District hasn’t yet decided what opinion they should express about the incorporation question that’s on the ballot in a few weeks, or whether they should express an opinion at all. So we ask the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District for a response: You are guardians of public safety. Your enforcement ability is affected by whether the island votes Yes or No on September 9th. The public wants to know where you stand.
Michael Craig, Fire District Trustee, 2015-16
Grant Eckberg, Fire District Trustee, 2009-13
Mitchell Forest, Fire District Trustee, 2015-17
Derek Hill, Fire District Trustee, 2015-16
Ken Lee, Fire District Trustee, 2004-07
Linda Lee, Fire District Trustee, 2015-16
Mark Lucich, Fire District Trustee, 2011-2013
Norbert Schlenker, Fire District Trustee, 2015-16