Thursday, September 14, 2006

Auxiliary fire fighting plans rekindled at City Hall

Page Ten of Wednesday’s Daily News issued the call that hasn’t been heard for a while; Prince Rupert Fire Rescue is now accepting applications for the position of Auxiliary Firefighter. A controversial issue and one that has popped up from time to time in the city’s history, most recently during the Victor Kumar years at city hall. It was a plan that the former City Administrator had wanted to have in place a few years ago, but a public outcry seemed to keep it from ever coming to fruition.

Mr. Kumar took his leave of the city and the issue seemed to go to the back burner of late. But with the city still suffering some serous budgetary concerns it seems to have worked its way back to the top of the to do list at City Hall.

The concept of the auxiliary component to the fire department was one of the hot issues of the last municipal election; with the nature of the service provided and one that hits home to most people in the city it’s thus the one that seems to elicit the most feedback from the public. As the mayor no doubt discovered and probably remembers from the time.

The latest call for volunteers comes after a particularly busy few weeks for the fire department, as a number of house fires have left more than a few families scrambling for alternate accommodations and basic living supplies.

Many across the city believe that the city should increase the budget to the fire department to hire more full time firefighters, while there are some that agree that the volunteer based option might work. Though there are still concerns about response times, training regimens and such.

The current staffing levels don’t seem to be providing much comfort to the population. At times the prospect of the fire department waiting to go into a burning building until an extra member arrives is apparently always there. That is a prospect which makes for a nervous public, one that has seen some spectacular blazes in this city over the years. The Elizabeth apartment’s fire was only the most recent of the major fires to burn in the city.

It’s not clear yet if an auxiliary assisted department would solve that problem of staffing or not, response time is still the key to any successful conclusion to a fire event, as is confidence in the service being provided. Prince Rupert has a very strong attachment to its Fire Department, and it’s not to be tinkered with lightly.

While the auxiliary force format seems to have been more or less accepted in relation to the RCMP services in town, the jury is still probably out as far as the fire department is concerned. The city needs to do a much better job of explaining what they have planned and the impact of those plans on the current department and where it is going in the future.

Wednesday the topic was listed on page ten as a help wanted ad, you can expect to find it on the Editorial pages and on the front pages as the week’s progress.

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