(Westerly file photo)

Tofino fire chief calls for ‘critical’ boost in budget

“We are getting an incredible bargain for the services that are delivered to this community”

Tofino’s municipal council cheered its local fire department during a budget review last month.

Fire chief Brent Baker explained the department has 30 active firefighters and is looking to increase its budget next year. He said the department receives about $55,000 in revenue thanks to protection contracts with local First Nations communities.

He noted the fire department is predominantly funded through taxation and that the fire department’s operating budget is expected to be about $407,234 in 2022, including about $337,258 in staffing and office administration costs, $46,414 in volunteer indemnities, and $17,276 in firehall expenses. That operating budget will cost taxpayers about $352,234, up from $299,150 in 2021.

Baker explained that the department is also requesting about $92,000 in other capital expenses for 2022, including roughly $36,800 for training tools and upgraded storage capacity, $28,900 for new fire suppression and rescue equipment and $26,300 to replace expired equipment.

The roughly $36,800 for training tools includes about $5,300 for an extrication smart dummy, $19,500 for a new hoseline and extinguisher and $12,000 for a 20 ft. storage container.

“It’s critical that the fire department is training for the highest risk and the lowest frequency incidents and that that training be ongoing and consist of both modern techniques and equipment to provide the most realistic scenarios,” he said.

He said the hoseline and extinguisher is a propane fire training prop that provides realistic fire situations to test and hone the department’s skills and techniques in a wide variety of situations.

He said responding to vehicle collisions is one of the department’s most common tasks, but it can be challenging to create realistic scenarios to practice responding to them, suggesting the extrication smart dummies would be capable of creating life-like responses during training.

He added the storage container will increase the lifespan of current gear.

“It doesn’t look as though there’s going to be a new and improved fire department in the near future, so we need to make the most of the space that we do have and make some changes to how this building is used and designed for maintaining gear, keeping things dry and allowing our gear to last as long as possible,” he said.

He said the $28,900 for fire suppression and rescue equipment includes a $17,000 hydraulic pump, a $7,600 electric fan and a $4,300 high pressure lifting bag.

He said the department’s current pump is set to be retired and a replacement is needed.

The lifting bag would help with vehicle extrication and would reduce the chance of firefighter injuries as well as increase the speed the department can assist in a collision.

He said the $26,300 to replace retired equipment includes roughly $13,000 for new helmets, $12,000 in storage racks and $1,300 in balaclavas that cover firefighters head and neck and protect them from excessive heat as well as carcinogens.

The town’s chief administrative officer Bob MacPherson said the money being asked for “is maybe a little bit extraordinary this year,” and would likely cause a tax increase, but added Tofino is blessed with a dedicated group of volunteer firefighters.

“We get very good value from having a volunteer fire department in this town and we are so fortunate to have not only a volunteer department, but a very active department and people who stay in the department and are in there for the right reasons,” he said. “And, to be a little bit ageist, we have a comparatively young fire department where other volunteer departments in this province and others are struggling as people are aging out, we have young, enthusiastic community members lining up to be part of our fire department. I think that’s a real tribute to Chief Baker and the leadership team there.”

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He added that what the department is asking for would increase public safety as well as the safety of the crew.

“Some of these things we’re just not going to be able to comfortably recommend that we defer to a future year or spread them out over five years, because of the safety aspect that’s involved,” he said. “We are working to modernize the safety of our fire department so that the members, the folks who get out of their beds in the middle of the night and respond to these incidents, are well protected and they are in turn able to provide good protection to our community…Recognizing the call volume, recognizing the kinds of incidents that our teams are responding to, we need to do a little bit more to ensure safety.”

Tofino mayor Dan Law said support for the department is significant.

“This is money well spent and the pandemic has taught us that things can happen and we’re certainly in a spot that’s emergency prone,” he said. “We have an excellent fire department.”

Coun. Tom Stere agreed and added he was “very, very highly supportive” of Baker’s requests.

“We are getting an incredible bargain for the services that are delivered to this community,” he said. “We have an incredibly strong department in all aspects.”

Tofino’s next budget meeting is scheduled for January, 2022.


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