The town of Banff will have more time to decide what kind of emergency response service — if any — it will provide along Highway 93 S. in Kootenay National Park after Parks Canada granted an extension on a contract it previously had a ended years before.
At a Monday meeting, Banff council heard they have until Dec. 31, 2023 to decide if and how the Banff Fire Department will respond to emergencies on the highway when the current contract with Parks Canada ends.
The contract, signed in 2014 between the town and Parks Canada, was set to expire at the end of next year. Earlier this month, Parks notified the town that the contract would end a year early, only to backtrack and grant an extension to the original end date.
Banff Fire Chief and Director of Protective Services Silvio Adamo told council Monday that prior to signing the contract in 2014, the department had been providing emergency services along that stretch of highway in partnership with the town of Invermere for as long as the organization existed, without any formal agreement or compensation.
In the past nearly nine years, the department has been reimbursed by the federal government to provide response services for road rescues and medical emergencies, as well as fire and hazardous materials incidents.
One option is to enter into an agreement with Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC), Adamo said, adding he has concerns about this choice because of the specific and restrictive nature of EMBC’s response strategy and compensation.
“EMBC will not reimburse a municipality or an agency for response to medical emergencies, hazards, fires, and the one thing that determines their reimbursement is if someone is trapped or needs to be removed from a vehicle or structure,” said he said.
EMBC will pay only $360 per hour if someone needs to be extricated from a vehicle, regardless of how much apparatus the fire department brings to the scene or the time of day.
“When we turn off the callers for our membership during the day, it costs us somewhere between $1,000 and $1,200 to do that, and after the hours of 11pm to 7am it’s double that,” he said. “So as far as cost recovery, it doesn’t even come close, and again there’s a huge gap in what they will reimburse and what we normally respond to in emergencies.”
The Town of Invermere is also concerned that the Banff Fire Department would decide not to enter into an agreement with EMBC once the contract expires, after which it would have no legal obligation to respond to emergencies in the Kootenay National Park not.
Adamo said the choice is between moral responsibility and cost.
“Of course we always want to do the right thing, this is the business we’re in to help people and we want to do the right thing regardless, but we’re doing it at the expense of our taxpayers and that will increase that expense as we move forward. outside of this contract and if we enter into an EMBC contract,” Adamo said.
Shovel. Chip Olver said Monday the issue puts the fire department and the town in an awkward situation.
“I’m concerned about the people on that highway when this contract ends, that if their vehicle gets hit enough that they have to be extricated, they’ll get a certain level of response, but for other situations they won’t, and I think that is a busy highway and it’s a shame it’s changing. Really sorry,” she said.
The moral effect of the situation is one Mayor Corrie DiManno said she was relieved the council didn’t have to make now, but admitted it would have to be made eventually.
“There’s a real sense of a moral obligation to try to do our best to respond to incidents on that stretch of highway,” DiManno said. “It could be visitors to Banff, it could be residents of Banff, and that’s where that sense of moral obligation really comes from.”
Further discussions with EMBC and the town of Invermere are in the works before the board of administration will hear back to make a final decision no later than the third quarter of 2023.