ATHABASCA — Even if the Wandering River Fire Department (WRFD) gets its aging pumper truck fixed, firefighters will still be unable to work alone on a fire call without another department until it’s replaced.
Director of Agriculture and Community Services Dawn Phillips brought that reality to Athabasca County councillors during the June 14 regular meeting, where council was also joined by WRFD chief Maureen Kirby and deputy chief Andy Snegirev to discuss some of the challenges the department is currently facing.
“We know we need to get this brought forward because the pump test failed,” said Phillips. “And we do have other departments knowing that they need to respond, and our protocols actually dictate a second department always responding but with that being said, the pump test did fail.”
She added when a replacement was investigated in December 2021 the cost was $464,000 and now it’s $539,998 and rising and they can’t have a basic truck because of the number of calls for assistance on Highway 63 — they need a top control versus a side control truck for safety.
“Our fire department is approximately 40 years old. We're operating in the same building with the same equipment as when we joined from the ID; when Wandering River was part of the (Lac La Biche) improvement district,” said Kirby. “We have 16 members and altogether, just with fire experience, we have 92 years' experience in our fire department."
She told council most of their assist calls are to accidents on Highway 63, and in 2021 alone the department responded to nine accidents which included fatalities.
“In the past we've had accidents with up to seven fatalities at one scene, and we also had situations where we've used every spine board and immobilization to get people extricated,” said Kirby.
Also, in 2021 they responded to a call 45 minutes north of Wandering River where two cars had collided and burst into flames.
“The reason I bring this forward is because, if you haven't been to Wandering River, I want you to visualize the breadth and vastness of the area we serve,” she said.
The current truck has a consistent lack of backup pump pressure, excessive leaking from valves and the PTO (power take off) clutch will disengage randomly.
A restricted reserve was created in the 2022 budget with $464,000 set aside for the replacement truck but with increasing prices it won’t be enough, and council was given three options – pay up to $50,000 in repairs; rent a replacement truck until an evaluation is complete; or purchase the new truck and pay for the extra cost out of the unrestricted surplus.
Coun. Gary Cromwell and Coun. Tracy Holland were against the repairs and felt the truck needed to be replaced while Coun. Camille Wallach said inflation was peaking so it would be wise to do the repairs instead.
“Why would we purchase something at the peak of inflation?” asked Wallach. “And it's not going to be a quick turnaround for a new truck. Let's give it a year, we have time. I know that you need a new truck, but we're going into the peak of inflation. We shouldn't be purchasing right now.”
After a prolonged discussion, council decided to go ahead with repairs for a maximum of $50,000, funded from the unrestricted surplus.