Fighting for Rapattack base amenities

Two Salmon Arm councillors to go to Victoria to ask ministry to keep local base intact.

Black Press file photo A B.C. Forestry Service Rapattack team trains in South Canoe. Salmon Arm council is concerned about the removal of the food service and possibly accommodation from the base. Two city councillors will be heading to Victoria to attempt to to the minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Salmon Arm Council isn’t giving up on retaining a Rapattack base with cooking facilities and accommodation in Salmon Arm.

During the past year, council has had about a dozen meetings and discussions with representatives and staff of the Wildfire Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO).

The meetings arose after FLNRO informed council in October 2016 that the room and board option at the base, which was established in the 1970s, was to be cancelled. Catering at the barracks was to end on Jan. 1, 2017 and accommodation on Jan. 1, 2018. (During the 2015 fire season, six aircrew staff and 36 rappel staff were housed onsite.)

The removal of catering went ahead in January of this year but, in September, the B.C. government reported it would be reviewing the availability of accommodation across the province for crews fighting wildfires. Gathering that information has delayed the removal of accommodation at the Salmon Arm base, which will now remain through 2018.

In the meantime, council authorized Harrison, Coun. Chad Eliason and the city’s chief administrative officer, Carl Bannister, to head to Victoria to speak directly with FLRNO Minister Doug Donaldson and staff, either this month or next, once a meeting is arranged by city staff.

“Originally we were told the reason for the change was to try to standardize bases across the province,” Harrison says. “We made the argument that the Rapattack base in Salmon Arm is unique – it’s the only one in B.C.”

They pointed to the need for a rapid response and, with help from the economic development society, provided statistics on rental accommodation in Salmon Arm during the summer.

“It’s extremely difficult to find,” he said, and is not necessarily close to the base.

Council authorized having the two councillors meet with the minister because “we want to try to close the gap with communication; communication with Wildfire Management out of Kamloops is primarily staff… We want to speak directly with the minister and staff at the same time.”

He said they’ll fight for accommodation but haven’t given up on the food services either.

Harrison pointed out that the cost to the government for catering amounted to $119,000 – fire crews pay for the service – which he characterized as a drop in the bucket when more than $50 million was spent on firefighting this past summer.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information pertaining to the removal of accommodation and catering from the Salmon Arm Rapattack base refer to the desire for “consistency” as the prime motivator, while a cost/benefit analysis for the catering services lists no overall cost but instead, a total positive recovery benefit of $45,000.

Many people have written in support of the base, Harrison says.

“That’s what our mission is there; we certainly want to be working with the ministry in the best interests of firefighting, but certainly in the best interests of Salmon Arm… We do have some optimism; certainly our MLA Greg Kyllo is very much onside and he will join us at that meeting. We want to make sure we do everything we can to keep that accommodation there. If we don’t do a trip and something happens, you might ask yourself later – why didn’t we do more?”

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