Kootenay neighbourhood without fire service over bridge safety concerns

·3 min read
The only bridge providing access to Pass Creek’s Mountain Ridge Road is unsafe for heavy fire trucks, according to the Regional District of Central Kootenay. (Submitted by Vanessa Terwoort - image credit)
The only bridge providing access to Pass Creek’s Mountain Ridge Road is unsafe for heavy fire trucks, according to the Regional District of Central Kootenay. (Submitted by Vanessa Terwoort - image credit)

A small neighbourhood in the West Kootenay has been left in limbo after the only bridge providing access to it was deemed unsafe for large fire trucks to cross.

In January, property owners along Pass Creek's Mountain Ridge Road — about seven kilometres north of Castlegar, B.C. — received a letter from Nora Hannon, the fire chief of the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK), stating a 25-year-old privately-maintained bridge — which connects Pass Creek and Mountain Ridge Roads — doesn't have an engineer-verified load rating that certifies it's strong enough for heavy fire rescue equipment.

"Effective immediately, Pass Creek Fire [Services] will not cross the bridge with large fire apparatus and will not be providing fire suppression to residents in the Mountain Ridge Road area," Hannon said in the letter released Jan. 15.

"The safety of RDCK Pass Creek firefighters is paramount. Should further information become available on an engineered current load rating, the RDCK will reconsider this decision," the letter said.

Skyrocketing home insurance premiums

Vanessa Terwoort, representing the Mountain Ridge Road Users Cooperative Association, says district fire services discovered the bridge's situation after a homeowner in her neighbourhood applied for fire protection.

Terwoort says after the fire chief's decision home insurance premiums for the 22 homes along the 700-metre pathway jumped 30 to 60 per cent.

"If you do have a house fire, it'll be a complete loss," she said Wednesday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "There won't be anything to save it."

In a follow-up letter to Terwoort in March, the RDCK said Mountain Ridge Road has no fire hydrants, which means firefighters have to cross the bridge multiple times to replenish their water supply.

Aerial view of the bridge connecting Pass Creek Road and Mountain Ridge Road.
Aerial view of the bridge connecting Pass Creek Road and Mountain Ridge Road.(Submitted by Vanessa Terwoort)

Terwoort says Mountain Ridge Road property owners hired an engineer in 2012 to assess the bridge's load rating. The structure's maximum capacity was determined to be a seven-axle truck, which she says is more than double the weight of a fire truck.

But Regional District of Central Kootenay Fire Services didn't recognize the certification because the engineer no longer works with the company that issued the load rating certification, according to Terwoort.

"The decision was then made without a formal review, without a site visit, without hazard risk assessment," she said. "Because the load rating couldn't be confirmed nor denied, it was being considered unsafe and effective immediately, we would no longer have fire protection to our homes."

Terwoort says she and fellow homeowners still have to pay property taxes, part of which are used to cover fire services. Early this week, they decided to spend $150,000 to build a new bridge to replace the existing one — in the hope of getting fire services restored.

Medical services will continue

The district's chief administrative officer, Stuart Horn, says he's mulling over the homeowners' request for property tax furlough until October, the time when the new bridge construction is expected to be complete.

Horn also says first responder medical services from the fire department will continue.

"We will be looking at everything we can do to support the community as they get this bridge replaced," he said Thursday on Daybreak South.

Tap the link below to hear Vanessa Terwoort's interview on Daybreak South:

Tap the link below to hear Stuart Horn's interview on Daybreak South: