As near as anthropologists can figure, mankind first was able to control fire about 1.7 to two million years ago.
Utilizing fire completely revolutionized human development; as a source of warmth and lighting, fire provided protection from predators while also helping create better hunting tools and cooking methods.
For municipalities in the 21st century, however, fire tends to pose more problems than solutions. Protecting Crowsnest Pass residents from fire was a top priority for Crowsnest Pass council during the March 23 regular meeting.
Stepping up to the task
Council unanimously approved first reading for a borrowing bylaw that would lead to the purchase of a new ladder truck for the fire department.
The truck will be paid for through a $1.5 million loan. The Municipal Government Act requires municipalities to create borrowing bylaws so residents have ample notice and opportunity to engage with council before the money is borrowed.
The bylaw must be advertised in local newspapers for two weeks before allowing a 15-day period for residents to submit a petition in opposition. If no opposition is presented, council will vote on second and third reading at the April 27 meeting.
Coun. Lisa Sygutek said the purchase was a no-brainer since it directly involves community safety.
“Yes, this is $1.5 million, but if we don’t have this ladder truck then how are we going to ensure the seniors in our senior complex are safe?” she asked.
“It really comes down to safety, especially for the most vulnerable sector of our community.”
If the borrowing bylaw passes second and third reading, the fire truck will be available for use in Crowsnest Pass next spring. It is expected the municipality will be able to use the ladder truck for 10 to 15 years.
Hillcrest fire hall
A burning topic council has grappled with in the past that was reignited during the meeting is the viability of the fire hall in Hillcrest.
During previous budget deliberations, council directed administration to analyze municipal facilities to determine if reductions in infrastructure could be made. Currently, the Hillcrest fire hall — or, as it is officially called, Crowsnest Pass Fire Rescue Station 22 — houses only a 2001 Ford Super Duty that functions as a brush truck for fighting wildfires.
The fire hall does not have capacity to store any other firefighting vehicles; other than the brush truck, the only other vehicle kept there is the municipal parade float.
Such limited use raises questions about the amount of money spent on the building’s utilities, snow clearing and maintenance.
Staffing is also a problem in Hillcrest as recruitment in the community has been sparse for the last several years. Only three members of the department are staffed at the fire hall, with two of them being unavailable half the time as a result of work schedules. None of the members are fire officers.
Previous talks about closing the station were dismissed, said Mayor Blair Painter, in order to attract more department staff from the Hillcrest area.
“The intent in keeping this building going was to foster more firefighters out of that community, which simply has never happened,” he said. “I think we’ve exhausted this, we’ve done seven years with this.”
If closed, the brush truck and staff would be relocated to Station 23 in Bellevue. An alternative storage location would be selected for the parade float.
Shutting down the Hillcrest fire department to save money, however, was viewed by some council members as a hasty decision.
“This is not just a garage for the residents of Hillcrest,” said Coun. Marlene Anctil. “This is an election year, and I just think this is quite contentious for the residents, and in my opinion I don’t think it should be closed.”
Maintaining the building for storage, she added, was a justifiable expense for the municipality.
Coun. Doreen Glavin said even a limited presence of emergency responders in Hillcrest is worthwhile, given Hillcrest’s physical location.
“While we only have three, when there’s a train stuck on the tracks, and it’s a matter of maybe those three responders getting to a house because someone is having a heart attack and the ambulance can’t get across the track — sorry, I’m not voting for this,” she said.
Council eventually settled on a motion directing administration to bring the matter to the next budget cycle for the next elected council to decide.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze