The Peace River Regional District will soon be looking for resident input about expanding fire protection and response services out of the Charlie Lake fire hall.
The board is studying its options for expanding the Charlie Lake fire protection area to the north and west, and how much it would cost taxpayers. An expansion could see a satellite fire hall built in Baldonnel, and new road rescue and medical first response services.
"Is there interest even out there going any farther, because to go too far into this may not even be necessary if there is no interest," said board chair Brad Sperling, also the electoral director for Charlie Lake.
"We need to at least ask the people what they may or may not expect."
But the regional district will first need to discuss the potential expansion with its mutual fire aid partners at the Fort St. John and Taylor fire departments before any public meetings take place. The two municipalities both provide support to Charlie Lake firefighters when called upon. And expanding protection and services will undoubtedly come with a need for new equipment and infrastructure, such as water depots, to service any new areas.
The regional district would be looking to hold a meeting with property owners within 13 kilometres of the fire hall along Highway 29, Sawyer Road, the Wolsey Subdivision, and Old Hope Road. The meeting would also include property owners from Old Fort.
The regional district has been awaiting a third party review of fire protection in Charlie Lake after early season wildfires erupted in 2016 set a record volume of calls to the volunteer fire department, and prompted homeowners outside fire protection boundaries to ask about being included.
At the time, fire officials in Charlie Lake also wanted new authority to respond to vehicle rescues and medical calls. Though the department is made of up volunteers with the training, it's unable to respond to those calls under its existing establishment bylaw from the 1980.
The review, completed in December by David Mitchell and Associates, found the area at a high risk of fast-moving grass fires during extremely dry and hot weather in spring and fall. The risk of fire is expected to increase over the next decade with predicted climate change, the report stated.
The Charlie Lake department is "well equipped to deal with small grass fires, as they have two bush trucks in their fleet," the report noted. "Fighting large scale grass fires, however, would present significant water supply and access challenges."
There are about 50 homes to the west and 75 homes to the north outside of the existing Charlie Lake fire protection boundary. There are another 175 homes in the Baldonnel area.
"Fire protection for Area C can be improved by expanding the existing fire protection area for Charlie Lake as well as with the construction of an additional fire hall preferably in the Baldonnel area," the consultants wrote.
"Coverage from these two fire halls would continue to be supported by mutual aid from Fort St. John and Taylor, subject to renewal of the relevant the mutual aid agreements."
Those agreements should be combined into a single agreement covering the area to reduce contract maintenance issues, the report noted.
The study also looked at expanding rural protection in the Electoral Area D around the Kiskatinaw River.
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