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New fire hall needed, affordable, fire chief says
A new fire hall in Osoyoos will cost the average homeowner less than $50 a year in taxes and the cost will be spread over 30 years, said Fire Chief Rick Jones.
“It’s really not that bad a number when you compare it to other things,” Jones told members of the Rotary Club of Osoyoos at their lunch meeting last Thursday.
The new fire hall, he said, is necessary because the present one is a renovated building and the renovations were done before the building code was made more specific regarding fire halls.
“We need to meet standards such as separate rooms to house clothing just because of the carcinogens that come off smoke and the smell of dirty equipment,” said Jones, noting that there isn’t adequate separation from an upstairs meeting room and from town staff working in the adjoining building.
“We’re in and out maybe three hours a couple times a week, but the people that work in the town office are there for eight hours a day except for the weekend,” said Jones. “Those things have to be properly sealed or you get that smell transferring.”
The doors to the fire hall are also so low that not all the trucks can be put inside and even for the ones that do fit, it’s a tight squeeze, he said.
“The new hall is very necessary,” said Jones. “It’s just one of those things that is long overdue. If you look at the last new building that the town has built, it was the public works building that I think was built in 1985.”
The estimated cost of the new fire hall is around $6 million, which Jones said is comparable to or less than halls in similar communities.
Jones told Rotarians that the levy for the fire hall would only apply to the assessed value of property improvements, such as a house, rather than to the entire property value.
On an average home, the annual cost would be about $46.80 per year or $3.90 per month.
This is because the town would receive grants up front and the borrowing costs would be amortized over 30 years.
By spreading the costs over 30 years, he said, it is fairer to homeowners because residents would pay throughout the years they own the home and benefit from fire service.
By contrast, if the cost was paid over 10 years, those moving to town after 10 years would get a free ride, while those only owning their home only the first 10 years would pay more than their share.
Earlier this month, Osoyoos Town Council decided not to hold a referendum on funding a new fire hall as had originally been planned. Instead, council has decided to use an “alternative approval process” which requires the town to advertise the expenditure and only hold a referendum if at least 10 per cent of eligible voters petition for one.
Jones also gave Rotarians an overview of the Osoyoos Fire Department, which has been running since 1926 and is a volunteer service.
While firefighters aren’t paid a salary, they are compensated for time they take off work to fight fires.
Costs of the service are divided between the Town of Osoyoos and the Rural Fire Protection District, which includes rural areas outside the town’s boundaries that the fire department serves.
The rural district operates as a separate organization from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) so it isn’t a case of RDOS officials telling the fire department what to do, he said.
In addition to the main fire hall next to the town office, there is also a satellite hall east of the lake on 51st Street, Jones said. That hall houses a full pumper truck and a water tender.
If something happened to the bridge, it would still be possible to ferry men across from the west side, but it isn’t possible to get equipment across, Jones explained.
The force currently is made up of about 28 volunteers, but this number fluctuates, Jones said. An ideal number is 28 to 32, but it has fallen to 23 or 24, which Jones considers too low.
Young people enjoy the work, but the challenge in attracting young volunteers is that there isn’t enough employment in Osoyoos to retain a young population, Jones said.
“When they graduate high school, they look forward to going north or somewhere or going to university,” he said. “They don’t make their home here.”
There is currently only one woman on the force, Eileen Varga, he said. She assists in making sure the firefighters have enough to eat and drink on the job and she keeps statistics and also looks after paperwork.
Among the men, however, the force is well rounded with firefighters from a variety of occupations. It is useful in different situations to have firefighters trained as electricians, plumbers, automotive mechanics and heavy equipment operators, Jones said.
Firefighters receive level one and level two training, which is the same as full-time professional firefighters receive, he said. They receive training for a wide number of situations including vehicle extrication, basic first aid, rope rescue and other training.
“There’s a lot to learn in a lot of different fields,” Jones told the Rotarians.
Firefighters deal with situations such as people who call in panic when their furnace first comes on for the year, as well as more dangerous situations when they may be exposed to hazardous materials or even to residents who are contagiously ill.
“The guys run into all kinds of stuff,” said Jones. “It’s not all fun and parties.”
Applications to become a firefighter may be picked up at the town office, Jones said.