Fire departments across the province will now be paid more to do road rescues outside of their municipality's limits, which will ease some of their financial burden.
Port Alberni Fire Department fire chief Tim Pley, who is also the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. president, announced that last week, after months of negotiations, Victoria has agreed to pay fire departments $300 an hour for road rescues, for a minimum of one hour per road rescue.
“It will help offset the cost of road rescues,” Pley said. “I am happy the value has gone up.”
Road rescues occur when fire departments are called to the scene of a car crash to extricate people trapped inside a vehicle, using the Jaws of Life.
In the past, fire departments had been paid a flat rate of $125 by the province when they had shown up at a road rescue scene and had not been used, and $250 an hour when they were used.
“The fee structure is now congruent with other services,” Pley said. “Road rescue is being put in with other services.”
He added that fire departments will make more money on every road rescue call.
In 2012, the Port Alberni Fire Department had 30 road rescue calls outside of city limits. Pley said almost all of the accidents were on Highway 4.
“We have two busy seasons for road rescues,” he said. “One is in the winter, when there is bad weather, and the other one is in the summer.”
Pley said that when the Port Alberni Fire Department gets called to do a road rescue outside of city limits, a crew of four firefighters and a fire truck is sent to the scene, just like with any other call.
Since four firefighters are on duty at any hour of the day, the entire crew goes out when the department gets a road rescue call.
The fire department's cost depends on fixed costs, which include firefighters' salaries and fire truck maintenance costs, and variable costs, which include overtime, fuel, use of equipment and wear and tear.
Last July, it was revealed that 19 out of 23 firefighters in the department earned salaries of $75,000 or more in 2012.
Pley explained that when a fire department responds to a road rescue outside of its municipality's limits, the department must get authorization from
Emergency Management B.C., which gives the department a pre-approved task number.
When firefighters come back from the scene, the on-duty captain fills out a report with the names of the firefighters who attended the scene, the actions they did and how long they remained on scene.
The road rescue rates are usually reviewed every year and go up and down depending on what has changed.
This year, the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. identified road rescue rates as an issue and mandated its second vice-president, White Rock Fire
Rescue fire chief Phil Lemire, to be the lead on the road rescue rate task force.
Pley said he was preparing a report for city council on how much it costs for the city to have its fire department do outside road rescues and how much it gets from the government to do so.
“Council is looking at every service to see if there is value for the cost,” he said.
He is working on identifying how much the road rescue rate increase will reduce the cost to the fire department.