Fire chiefs decry federal cuts

Beginning in April, the Yukon will no longer be able to call on experts equipped to respond to disasters, like collapsed underground mines and concrete buildings.

Beginning in April, the Yukon will no longer be able to call on experts equipped to respond to disasters, like collapsed underground mines and concrete buildings.

Ottawa has cut funding to the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program. This includes $2.1 million that funded the five Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams located across the country. The closest units are in Vancouver and Calgary.

The Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs passed a motion to lobby the territorial and federal governments to reinstate the funding last weekend in Dawson City at its 20th annual conference, said Clive Sparks, Whitehorse’s fire chief.

HUSAR teams are trained to respond to disasters, like the collapse of a mall in Elliott Lake, Ont., in June. They are the only units in Canada with the capabilities to respond to these situations, said Scott Cowan, the task force leader of the Calgary team. The teams are mandated to respond to disasters anywhere in Canada.

Once the cuts happen, municipalities can call a team for assistance, but the unit may not be able to respond, he said.

Teams receive 75 per cent of their funding from the federal government. The remainder comes from either municipal or provincial governments.

Teams have special equipment, including cameras and dogs that can assist in search and rescues, and have food, water and shelter to sustain themselves for 10 days.

Not all members work for emergency services. Some are structural engineers or water purification specialists. The Calgary unit has 105 members. Only two are paid, said Cowan.

It seems unlikely the government will change its position, he said.

Most disasters in Canada are managed by municipalities or at the territorial or provincial levels, said Julie Carmichael, spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety in an email to the News. The federal government will help territorial and provincial governments when asked.

“Moving forward, our government is focused on delivering long-term disaster prevention funding to help provincial and territorial governments build infrastructure to protect against natural disasters,” she said.

Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor and Commissioner Douglas Phillips attended part of the AYFC conference. Communication with the government has greatly increased, said Jim Regimbal, association president.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air,” he said.

With municipal elections coming this fall, citizens should ask candidates where they stand on funding for fire departments and make sure it remains a priority, he said.

This past spring, Taylor announced an additional $1.9 million in funding for the fire marshal’s office. That money has been used to increase the number of fire marshals and training resources.

More can be done. A review of how much voluntary fire chiefs are paid is a year overdue, said Regimbal.

Service medals were also presented at the conference, including one recognizing Clive Sparks’ 40 years of continued service.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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