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Sea of change: NV loses its fireboats
Underneath the north side of the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge floats an empty boathouse on a swirling bit of aquatic real estate.
Until last month, it was home to North Vancouver’s contribution to the Port Metro Vancouver fireboat program.
But recently the Port Metro municipalities revisited their 20-year-old fireboat agreement and now the North Shore will be without its two dedicated fireboats for the first time since 1991.
It was during that year that a consortium of Port Metro municipalities bought and began operating five small high-speed fireboats to replace one large fireboat that Vancouver had owned until 1987, when it sold it to San Francisco.
That fireboat consortium included both the city and district of North Vancouver — where one fireboat each would be staffed and operated — but excluded West Vancouver, which felt the fireboat program was unnecessary west of the Capilano River.
Under that previous agreement, Vancouver operated and housed two boats, Burnaby and Port Moody shared one boat, and the city and district of North Van each had one boat.
Now 20 years on, the boats are aging and North Shore firefighting needs are changing, according to North Vancouver district fire chief Victor Penman.
Under the new agreement, North Vancouver will still have access to a Port Metro fireboat when needed, but the boat won’t be staffed by North Van firefighters and won’t have a North Shore port to call home.
Instead, Vancouver will operate two of the old fireboats and cover the majority of the costs of the program, Burnaby and Port Moody will still share a boat, and one vessel will be kept in reserve as a spare and the fifth will be mothballed.
This new agreement is only slated to last until the end of 2013. By March of 2012, the Port Metro municipalities are expected to have hammered out a new long-term fireboat agreement.
“The difference is that over the last 20 years the District of North Vancouver shared in the operation of the boat and we don’t have to do that anymore,” Penman told The Outlook. “So we still receive the service at 50 per cent of what the previous cost was and we can reallocate those funds and all the time we spent training and repairing and maintaining those boats to those things we encounter more frequently.”
Penman said under the new agreement the district’s fireboat budget would be $31,000 as opposed to the previous annual bill of $62,000.
In the city, the new cost is much less.
But the head of the North Vancouver district firefighters’ union, president Brian Leavold told The Outlook the new agreement would leave residents less protected.
“We’re certainly not behind this. It’s less service for the residents of the North Shore and Indian Arm. They’re still going to be covered but it won’t be as quick,” Leavold said, adding the firefighters’ union protested the changes in the new agreement but was powerless to fight it.
“There was a reason the [boats] were put here before — because they thought it was a good place to have them,” he added. “I don’t know what changed, other than cost savings.”
Leavold agreed with Penman, however, that the loss of the fireboats would free up North Van firefighters to train for more commonly needed operations like technical rescues and industrial spills.
Penman said fireboat calls are very infrequent in the district — only about five per year — and rarely are they calls to places that can’t also be reached by land, with the exception of a few remote areas of Indian Arm.
The district of North Vancouver will not change staffing levels at its fire halls because of the new service agreement.