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Legislated density could challenge small-town Island fire departments

Lantzville concerned change could mean added expenses like new ladder truck
A Lantzville council resolution asking the province to allow development charges to pay for firefighting equipment could save municipalities millions of dollars when upgrading fire trucks that will be needed to fight fires in multi-storey residential buildings. (News Bulletin file photo)

Municipalities continue to come to grips with new B.C. government housing density legislation, including the potential costs of upgrading firefighting apparatus to protect high-rise and even mid-rise buildings.

Small B.C. municipalities such as the District of Lantzville don’t currently have four-storey residential structures that may be mandated by new housing legislation, nor the apparatus to fight fires in them. Ladder trucks may have to be purchased to provide adequate fire protection services, but there’s some uncertainty as far as funding sources.

District of Lantzville council suggests the funding could be raised through development cost charges levied by municipalities to pay for infrastructure needed to service new development. The province currently allows municipalities to use development charges to pay for firefighting facilities, but not explicitly firefighting apparatus.

Lantzville council, based on a resolution submitted by Coun. Jonathan Lerner earlier this year, wants the province to allow development charges to cover not just firehalls, but other large capital requirements.

“If it’s purely brick-and-mortar firehalls, the problem is that many communities, like Lantzville, might only have one firehall that gets replaced every 40 or 50 years. That’s important, but there are some other expenses that get incurred along the way … the big one, of course, is fire trucks,” Lerner said. “Lantzville has a number of fire trucks, as do other small communities, and we replace them on a cycle, but … anything four storeys or higher is going to likely require a ladder truck.”

He said Lantzville can access mutual aid from Nanaimo Fire Rescue to fight fires, but would still need its own ladder truck, which carries a price tag of about $2 million, to ensure the fastest response to a fire.

“That’s a lot of money for a community when $30,000 or so is about one per cent of our budget,” he said.

One of Lantzville’s fire trucks, Lerner said, is due for replacement in 2028.

“There’s nothing wrong with development, but if it’s going to encourage additional expense for the district it’s important that we try to find ways to offset that,” the councillor said.

Lantzville council’s resolution has been acceptd by the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities board for discussion and Lerner hopes it will be adopted at the AVICC conference in Victoria this Friday through Sunday, April 12-14.

“This isn’t the first time something like that has been brought up at the AVICC, but … it was an honour to have it endorsed and I’m looking forward to advocating for it…” he said.

If the motion is adopted it would likely be forwarded for consideration at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September.

READ ALSO: Province’s transit-oriented areas don’t quite align with Nanaimo’s city plan

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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