Oak Bay explores the future of mutual fire aid

Oak Bay's fire service to review 35-year-old agreement

Oak Bay and its fire service are open to “creating efficiencies,” says Mayor Nils Jensen.

Municipal staff in the four-core will have a look at how fire departments service individual communities, and share their skills and staff with a review of the mutual aid agreement in place.

Many things have changed in the fire service, Fire Chief Dave Cockle said, addressing council Oct. 13, noting there are more collaborative and specialized approaches.

“There is an opportunity here for the district to look at, not so much mutual aid, but at a core service area agreement,” Cockle said. “This is about integrating our services.”

Greater Victoria fire departments have always had mutual aid agreements, formal or informal, since inception.

The last review of the current formal agreement was endorsed by the councils of the City of Victoria, Township of Esquimalt, District of Saanich and District of Oak Bay Dec. 18, 1980.

The current wording says that if one department has committed all its firefighting resources, a neighbouring municipality would provide standby fire protection  provided that department wasn’t already engaged in fighting a fire or other emergency.

Further, local fire chiefs may also make arrangements among themselves “for the most efficient deployment of their forces and for the division of their fire protection services in the event of a fire.”

While the language of the 35-year-old agreement allows chiefs the latitude to adapt to fire fighting standards and regulations without having to bring the document back to their respective councils for continual approval and updates, significant changes to the requirements of fire fighting regulations have occurred over time.

“The intent of the current agreement is to provide fire suppression assistance to the neighbouring municipalities when they are fully committed to a fire in their district, provided the neighbouring department is not already tied up. This includes providing assistance with a working fire at no cost or liability to the neighbouring community. The existing mutual aid agreement has worked very well in the community to provide assistance to municipal fire departments to quickly mitigate fire emergencies in their districts,” Cockle wrote in a report to council.

“Given the changes to fire fighting standards and regulations, consideration should be given to updating the current agreement considering all factors and opportunities to provide the most efficient and effective fire fighting services in the core municipalities.”

Council tasked staff to work with their counterparts in neighbouring communities to develop a project Charter and Terms of Reference to develop a new core Fire Services Agreement between The District of Saanich, The Township of Esquimalt, The City of Victoria and the District of Oak Bay.

“This is the first step in what will probably be a year-long project,” Jensen said.

“I suspect the actual discussions and negotiating will not come until early in the next year.”