Victoria holds out as five municipalities sign fire aid deal

Victoria is refusing to sign a service agreement for mutual aid with five local fire departments.

Mayor Lisa Helps would not to go into details, saying she doesn’t want to negotiate through the media. However, she said the Victoria Fire Department has unspecified needs that have to be addressed.

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“Ours is the largest, most complex and most well-trained department,” Helps said.

“We do want to participate regionally, and I think we’ve given that indication, but there’s still a little bit of work to do on the agreement before Victoria jumps on board.”

Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, View Royal and Central Saanich have agreed to share services such as fire call backup through a five-year agreement making the rounds of local councils for ratification.

“Our firefighters have different levels of training and we have different apparatus. It’s hard to have mutual aid when we can offer different services and different apparatus and different response levels,” Helps said. “So I think that is still up for negotiation with all the other departments.”

Under the agreement, the signatories agree there will be no remuneration or compensation paid when one department assists another.

Helps said “that will need to be part of the conversation,” but would not elaborate.

“The intention is Victoria does become a party to the mutual-aid agreement — but it has to be in a way that’s fair for everybody,” she said.

In a report to Oak Bay councillors, Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle says the agreement would enhance firefighter and public safety, reduce the cost of fire losses and improve response times for areas near municipal boundaries.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen called it a “how do we best work together” agreement.

“We realize there’s going to be days that we need Saanich to back us up, and Saanich realizes that we’ll be backing them up,” he said.

“Over the years, actually, typically we’ve probably backed up on average a little more than we’ve been backed up.”

Jensen said Victoria is certainly welcome to join the group.

“We’re still reaching out and working with the City of Victoria, and we hope they will eventually join this agreement.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said it was “unfortunate” Victoria has decided not to participate and said she hoped the city would reconsider.

“But, in the meantime, all of the others are very excited and our fire chief says this is just a terrific agreement for everybody,” she said.

Failure to sign the agreement doesn’t mean that fire trucks stop at municipal boundaries, the mayors agreed.

“Everybody always backs each other up,” Desjardins said.

“So, absolutely, if somebody was in need, what we heard from our fire chief is we’ll respond. Everybody goes when you need it.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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