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All You Ever Wanted to Know: Salt Spring Fire News 101

April 26

A total of 13 joined us to welcome Fire Trustee Chair, Rollie Cook, and Chief Administrative Officer, Rodney Dieleman, to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. While the numbers were not large, the conversation was lively and rich.


After our Territorial Acknowledgment, we asked our guests what excited and delighted them. Rodney spoke briefly about his joy living on Salt Spring and all the new opportunities awaiting him. Having just purchased a boat, he is looking forward to exploring our coast and learning entirely new ways of fishing. A world quite different from the rivers of his former Alberta home, he is looking forward to new adventures. Rollie, dashing to be with us from his sheep-raising and planting duties, shared his joy with our lovely spring.


He also shared his great pleasure that, just that day, construction on the new firehall had begun. After seven years of planning, he is over the moon that the on-the-ground work for our new firehall is finally underway. Expected to be completed before the end of 2025, disruptions are expected to be minimal, most notably changes to the current pathway along Lower Ganges Road. While this pathway will eventually be rebuilt to at least its current standard, the addition of multiple driveways will take up about 40% of the current pathway.


Despite this enthusiasm, our guests were also very clear about the financial pressures buffeting our Fire Rescue District, including increased labour costs, skyrocketing equipment/supply expenses, and concerns about the other two firehalls - a balancing act requiring creativity and clear priorities.


As many of us know, rules for Improvement Districts (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/improvement-districts-governance-bodies/improvement-districts) are different from that of other forms of local government. While CRD, for example, needs voter approval for a tax that exceeds the approved cap, Improvement Districts are not required to obtain voter approval for tax increases.


When Rollie was first elected in 2017 ???, the annual Fire budget was approximately $2.5 million; it is expected to be $5.5 million in 2025. Despite this significantly larger budget, we learned from Rollie that the Fire District has widespread community support. He told us that each year before the budget is accepted, a public meeting is held to get feedback. Year after year, voters do not seem to be concerned about these rising taxes, estimated to be about $800 annually for an average Salt Spring household.


Instead, Rollie told us that he receives overwhelmingly positive feedback from voters about the progress of the Fire District as well as Trustees’ financial decisions. One significant change he noted was 24/7 fire protection. With crews ready to spring into action immediately, response times have been cut significantly.


While much of our conversation focused upon these large challenges to our growing and rapidly-changing Fire Rescue District, the clear message was one of optimism concerning the ability of a cohesive team of Trustees, staff, and firefighters to address these challenges. Another theme was a deep appreciation for the strong collaborative relationships with partners, like North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD), CRD and, most importantly, us, the community.


We learned that our Fire District utilizes an accreditation service, Fire Underwriters Survey - FUS: (https://fireunderwriters.ca/). As the result of a good report and successfully addressing recommendations, the fire insurance we pay on our homes can be significantly-reduced. This accreditation report was delayed due to COVID, and, as it has been seven years since it was done, Trustees anticipate moving forward with it as soon as significant progress has been made with the construction of our new firehall. .


They are optimistic that this report will be positive as the last report cited the District for two major inadequacies:

  1. An unsafe, inadequate Ganges Firehall, and

  2. An inadequate supply of water.


Both of these concerns will be addressed with the building of the new firehall and its water catchment systems. With the expected positive FUS report , Trustees hope that all of our insurance rates will drop.


A major focus of this firehall project is upon water - both draining the very wet site as well as catching as much as possible. An estimated $1.5 million of the cost of construction will be spent on land preparation and water management. Planned water projects include roof collection, storage of between 30,000-40,000 gallons of water, and a catchment pond at the back of the site.


We are an island, said a participant: What about using the water surrounding us? Good question, one that Fire Chief Jamie Holmes has spent some time investigating. Saltwater pumps do exist and can be either mobile, brought to within 25’ of the ocean; fixed pumps in a central village location; or permanently installed seawater access (like an ocean-based hydrant). While an intriguing option, not only are these seawater pumps expensive, but pipes and infrastructure are also needed. With an expected cost of about $250,000, Trustees will soon be grappling with that balancing act, deciding whether seawater usage or catchment will better serve the Fire District’s fast-expanding water needs.


Concerning equipment costs, Trustees are always seeking solutions, most recently by buying a four-year old fully-equipped truck. Conscious that the life of this vehicle will be less than new, they are confident that the money saved will justify its lost longevity.


So, with our taller buildings, like Mouat’s, Croftonbrook, and the proposed 3-story Drake Road supportive housing, do we need a ladder truck? Opinions differ: While some say, absolutely, others worry about their size and maneuverability on our narrow, winding roads. A possible solution is an enticing option Jamie is exploring: A prototype ladder truck built specifically for rural needs is being designed. Much like the BC Hydro ladder vehicles, there is hope that this truck could meet our rural needs far better than the large urban ladder trucks currently on the market.


Concerns about both the Fulford and Central firehall are on the minds of Trustees. Like the Ganges Firehall, Fulford is also a vintage 1960’s building, this one constructed of stacked concrete blocks. Rollie warned us that the slightest tremor could topple the building, destroying all the equipment - a full 1/3 of the total fire equipment. Trustees are concerned. There is interest in exploring the use of the current building for training only, storing equipment in a new steel building. Stay tuned. . . .


With the completion of the new firehall, the location of the Central one is no longer optimal. Instead, a farther north location is needed, likely in the Sunset/Channel Ridge area. Lots to discuss and explore on this subject as well.


While the plethora of issues may seem overwhelming, Rodney and Rollie are pleased that a solid long term strategic plan has just been completed to guide them: (https://saltspringfire.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/12.2-PDF-SSIFR-Long-Term-Financial-Plan-2019.pdf). While buildings and equipment are a big part of the plan, we learned from Rodney that a full half of the plan focuses upon the human relations aspects of the continued health of the Fire District, including relationships, teamwork, working conditions, and both the mental and physical health of all team members.


Rodney and Rollie spoke briefly about these already-strong relationships, including:

  • More than 40 Paid on Call volunteer firefighters;

  • A strong, union-supported team of full-time firefighters;

  • Fire Chief Jamie Holmes, a seasoned professional with longtime experience on Salt Spring;

  • A strong support staff, lead by CAO Rodney with his calm competence; and

  • A dedicated team of elected Fire Trustees.


In addition to this strong team, a high priority for the Trustees is to collaborate successfully with all levels of local government. Rollie shared his pleasure with the increasingly-strong relationships between our two largest Improvement Districts, Fire and North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD). Sharing many concerns as the severe weather and droughts of the climate crisis loom, they are working to collaborate to maintain fire hydrants as well as pondering forest management initiatives, clearly aware of the very real fire/drinking water threats caused by unhealthy forests.


The Fire District also has a longstanding relationship with CRD which includes significant financial support such as the purchase of CREST, our emergency alert system (https://crest.ca/) radios, support for water catchment systems, and most recently, the $1 million of Community Works, gas tax, (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/economic-development/funding-and-grants/community-works-fund) to help fund the new firehall.


And, what about the Ganges Firehall, with community occupancy expected by late 2025? Before the referendum, the Fire Trustees established a committee to discuss future use of this village firehall. While it was the unanimous recommendation of this committee to use this building for a year-‘round local food market, many agree that a community-wide conversation about its use should begin soon. While questions remain about the viability of this 1960s building with sea level rise, asbestos, and earthquake challenges, to name a few, participants at this ASK Salt Spring gathering seemed to agree that this conversation should begin soon.


And, Rollie offered the Ganges Firehall Training Room - free of any cost - for these community meetings.


As our time together drew to a close, Rodney and Rollie offered two other opportunities:

  1. Committees are being reinvigorated, and volunteers are being sought for a variety of committees, including Finance, Communications, Strategic Planning/Policy Development, Firehall Project Steering, and (new) Nominations. Interested? You can find the application form at: https://saltspringfire.com/salt-spring-island-fire-protection-district-committee-public-volunteer/.

  2. Like to get paid for making your property safer from fire? Thanks to a grant from FireSmart (https://firesmartbc.ca/), all you need to do to receive $250 is to invite a firefighter to your property to assess your fire vulnerability and implement the recommendations (https://saltspringfire.com/firesmart-ssi/firesmart-rebate-program/). Not only will you have a bit if extra cash, you will also have a FireSmart- er home.


Already 1:00, Rollie thanked us, and our entire community, for much appreciated support. He reminded us, that despite the lament of many that nothing ever gets done, amazing things are happening here as a result of working together. With appreciation for their optimism, hard work, willingness to face daunting challenges, and commitment to collaborative endeavours, we expressed our appreciation to Rodney and Rollie for leading this fascinating conversation. (Thank-you, Rollie and Rodney!)   



Please join us this Friday, May 3, 11-1, in SIMS (former Middle School) Classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.


What would you like to ask him?

  • What do you hope to accomplish before you begin campaigning this fall?

  • What Salt Spring issue is at the top of your list of concerns?

  • Are there any proposed laws that concern you? Which ones do you support?

  • If you had one wish for Salt Spring, what would it be?

  • And?


Please join us to welcome Adam this Friday!


Just in case you are interested. . . .This report has been written by Gayle Baker, Ph. D., founder of ASK Salt Spring, currently also a Salt Spring Local Community Commissioner. This report has also been edited by this week’s special guest.


Want to help? We welcome volunteers to join the team. Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!

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