The Cortes Island Fire Department wants to expand its service to include first response for medical emergencies. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Gulf Island fire fighters want first responder training

Cortes Island department wants training to cover medical emergencies

Cortes Island fire fighters want to add a first responder service to provide a quick response to medical emergencies in the community.

The Cortes Island Fire Department contacted the Strathcona Regional District this spring about the idea, along with some other requests about expanding its mandate. The SRD board responded to these at the June 20 meeting.

“This is three different requests that the fire department have brought forward, two to essentially formalize services that they already provide,” Area B Director Noba Anderson told the rest of the SRD board.

The requests are to recognize wharf protection as well as road rescues and attending emergencies. As these requests do not involved further funding, the board only needed to amend the current bylaw that covers fire service on the island to include protection of wharves, assistance to ambulance and road rescue efforts.

Regarding wharf protection, the boundary of the fire protection area was originally set at the high-tide line when the area was established, leaving out wharves from protection. The Cortes Island Fire Fighters Association (CIFFA) proposed it can protect these wharf or dock sites if the duty officer deems it is safe to do so.

For the road rescue and ambulance assistance, CIFFA has procured $13,597.50 of equipment and training through fundraising and grants, meaning it does not expect to need further funding from the 2018-2022 financial plan.

The third request, however, which involves establishing a first responder service on Cortes, would require funding. The SRD staff report estimates that funding will run about $41,000 in the first year and be $25,000 for 2020 and each year onward.

“There is a need for properly-trained and properly-equipped personnel to be available on Cortes 24/7 to perform first responder duties for the more serious medical emergencies,” CIFFA President Chris Walker said in a letter to the SRD. “The key improvement in service will be the high probability of a reduced response time for serious medical emergencies.”

At the SRD meeting, Anderson said that while this proposal is less controversial than a proposed hall tax that is going to a non-binding referendum this fall, which had been on agenda at the same meeting, there are some similarities in what is being asked from the community.

“This is a new service, with money, with a community vote opportunity,” she said. “One gets no comment and is not a whole lot less money than the other.”

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The SRD staff report says the higher figure in 2019 would arise from initial training costs for volunteers to become first responders. CIFFA plans to certify its members to become trainers so they can subsequently reduce further training costs. The report suggests the bylaw for first response will need electoral support either through a vote or by the alternative approval process.

At the last meeting, the SRD board passed motions to amend the current bylaw for the first two requests and to establish a bylaw to cover the first responder service.