By Cole Parkinson
While firefighter focus has been on the dry conditions throughout the area for the past few weeks prior to the snowfall, the M.D. of Taber Fire Department has also been focusing on mutual aid agreements with departments in their vicinity.
The work towards the agreements started last October and the M.D. FD say they’re closing in on the final few agreements. While they prefer having no fees attached with local departments, some have decided to continue to charge for the help of other firefighters.
“Of the ones we’ve got back only two are billing, the rest are no billing. So we went to Cypress County last week and we were there for about 10 hours. Because of our mutual aid agreement, Cypress County is actually one of the billing ones, but our agreement is the first 48 hours are free. After the 48 hours we bill 50 per cent of our cost so we won’t be submitting a bill to Cypress County. We did our good neighbour deed and helped them out because one day we might need that favour returned as well,” said Brian Schafer, fire chief for the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Service, at the M.D.’s regular meeting on Oct. 24.
With Cypress County being one of two charging communities, the other was the M.D. of Taber’s closest neighbour.
“Second billing one is the Town of Taber and they are one of the first ones I had gone to get this all in place before our March 1 deadline last year. They are full billing public transport rates, when I sat with the fire chief and CAO I presented the same package as everybody else got, which was the zero billing agreement. But they felt that they wanted the full billing contract so that’s a three-year deal,” said Schafer. “The ones tied to money are three-year deals and anybody who did zero fees are five years so that way we can spread them out. That way there is less work to do every three and five years.”
While the agreement is in place, the M.D. council was hesitant to have billing charges between them and the Town of Taber. Due to the close proximity the two inhabit, the M.D. council wanted Schafer to reach out and see if they could potentially change to non-billing.
“Can we resist that, the mutual with the town? I think being our closest neighbour the fact that it’s charging, I wouldn’t mind if you tried revising that. If it’s a negative you can pass it on to us, is what I’m asking,” said Brian Brewin, reeve for the M.D. of Taber. “I don’t want to charge our closest neighbour.”
Having charges between fire departments could turn costly for whichever side needs assistance.
“I can give you one example, Grassy Lake had a call and M.D. FD was on the way to the call, there was a garbage can fire by Barnwell. So had we called for mutual aid for the garbage can fire, $615 per hour, per truck and guaranteed four trucks would have rolled out of here. We were looking at a $6,000 or $7,000 bill for a garbage can. With what we have for resources around us, Grassy Lake is close, the Town of Coaldale we have a zero agreement with, so we have access. But anytime it’s an emergency such as motor vehicle accident or structure fire we’re definitely going to send them (Taber Fire Department) because we’re not going to play with people’s lives and property like that. Just depends what the call is, if it’s a garbage can it’s not worth $7,000 because then I’d be here answering to you guys,” said Schafer.
While the M.D. made it clear why they wanted to have a mutual aid agreement with no billing, Schafer says that the town’s department had concerns about moving forward with that type of settlement.
He says they were concerned that there may come a time where the M.D. over uses their services.
“I think a lot of it was, in my opinion, was that we were going to fall on our faces and call them for every single thing. The other difference in that agreement with them is there is no talk about training, I took that clause out because they wanted to bill us for everything that we called them for,” said Schafer.
Council finished the discussion asking Schafer to meet once again with the Taber Fire Department.
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