Revelstoke city council approved the purchase of an $887,000 aerial platform truck for Revelstoke Fire Rescue Services.
The decision came at their Aug. 23 regular meeting after fire chief Rob Girard presented a business case for the truck. It will replace an aging 34-year-old snorkel truck.
The process to locate and then purchase the piece of equipment has been ongoing since January. Council agreed a replacement truck is needed, but the debate was whether to buy a new, used or demonstrator model. Most recently, Girard asked for approval for this truck in late June but council balked, asking Girard to prepare and present a business case for that particular model. The truck in question is a demonstrator model – essentially a showroom truck that the manufacturer drove around to trade shows and is now selling. It’s a step down from a new, custom-built model.
Girard’s Aug. 23 presentation focused on the insurance implications to commercial and residential property owners when fire underwriting services downgrade fire departments. He told council the fire department’s ‘Fire Underwriters Survey’ (FUS) rating was downgraded in 2010, primarily because of aging equipment like the snorkel truck.
Girard explained that from 1984 to 2010, Revelstoke enjoyed a ‘class 5’ rating, until it was demoted to ‘class 7’ in 2010. For commercial property owners, this translates into a potential 10 per cent increase in fire insurance rates, Girard said, although rates do vary between insurance companies.
The argument is that when the fire department’s rating is downgraded, commercial and residential property owners’ fire insurance rates go up, so therefore they pay more in fire insurance. Logically, it would then make more sense to invest in a better truck and make taxpayers pay for the increase that way, with the added bonus of better equipment.
The plan is to borrow the money and have taxpayers pay the principal and interest back over 25 years.
Girard presented some numbers. He said that over 25 years, a 2-point insurance rating drop would cost the city an estimated $217,500 in extra fire insurance.
He surveyed some local insurance companies and found numbers for about 25-per-cent of private commercial buildings. His report said that the same 2-point drop would cost them $1,250,000 over a 25-year period (which is the same period the city will be repaying the truck). These numbers were based on estimates.
Detailed numbers for residential fire insurance were not presented.
Girard’s report argued that a newer truck would have a higher fire insurance rating for longer, versus an older, more used model.
A new truck is not the sole determinant of the department’s insurance rating. “There’s over 500 factors that are considered,” Girard said. Things like staff levels, training, equipment, fire hydrants and many more. He did emphasize that the new equipment was the key factor.
“Our major reason that the FUS rating [increased] was as a result of aging apparatus,” Girard told the Times Review. Once the new truck is here, the department can request a re-assessment. “We advise them and they do a reassessment for free, and the FUS rating would go down,” he said.
Although the ‘business case’ portion was the emphasis of the presentation, Girard’s report also noted improved performance, better safety for firefighters and community members, and better ability to perform a wider array of functions with the newer equipment.
Fire Rescue Services falls within Coun. Phil Welock’s portfolio. He admitted borrowing for the truck and having taxpayers pay principal plus interest wasn’t ideal. Municipal governments ideally set up a replacement fund to pay for predictable expenses like fire trucks, socking away some money each year over decades. But this wasn’t done. “It’s a tough pill to swallow. I thought about it long and hard,” Welock said, adding that council had identified replacing aging infrastructure as a top priority. He also added that the fire department was battling an unfortunate public perception that they were not being prudent with taxpayers’ dollars.
“My top priority as a councillor is policing and fire and saving lives and saving property and that’s what this is all about,” Welock added.
Coun. Tony Scarcella continued to express his vehement opposition to the plan. He has argued that a well-used model would suffice. He said the fire department, “put their mind on this truck; that’s what they wanted.”
In the end Coun. Scarcella and Coun. Chris Johnston voted against the plan.
Following the meeting, Coun. Johnston said he wasn’t convinced by the chief’s business plan. “I am not convinced that this is a good expenditure of our tax dollars,” he wrote in response to a question from the Times Review. “I am concerned about the safety of the firefighters and the public but from the chief’s comments I felt assured that there was not a risk to either from the existing equipment.” He added he preferred encouraging building owners to conduct more fire prevention and fireproofing.
A bylaw to authorize the borrowing of $915,000 for the truck was given its first three readings. That bylaw is subject to a public alternative approval process, meaning if enough registered voters write in to oppose it, it will be defeated. The city does theoretically have other ways of coming up with the money. A staff report did not have the total cost of borrowing once interest and exchange rates are factored in.