City approves funding to train staff for prescribed burns

City approves funding to train staff for prescribed burns

Cranbrook approved $30,000 that will go to wildfire prescription burning training for municipal firefighters after an extended discussion during a recent council meeting.

The funds will be transferred from a reserve account dedicated for wildfire mitigation efforts, but there were some concerns from council that prescribed burning activities within the city should be handled by contractor experts.

“The people in the Forest Service do this regularly, so they’re up to speed on doing prescribed burns, they’re the experts and they are just down the road, so I could see our people helping with them,” said Coun. Norma Blissett.

“But my concern is when we light up a forest area near the city, that’s about as dangerous as it gets, as far as prescribed burns go.

“I really would like to take advantage of the expertise from the province to lead [prescribed burning]…rather than lead it ourselves. I’m just concerned with the infrequency that we do this and the potential liability on that.”

Wayne Price, the director of Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services (CFES), told council the training would be another tool in the firefighter arsenal for combatting and preventing wildfire threats.

“We’ve got a number of hectares of private land in our watershed,” said Price. “Sooner or later, as we treat that in due course, we’re going to have to do prescribed burns through there. Right now, we rely on them (BC Wildfire Service) to come and assist us, or paid contractors, because it is our property.

We’re hoping to have four burn boss train so we have the expertise to undertake those burns, but obviously with the scope of those types of things, we always utilize Ministry of Forests as well.”

While Blissett was concerned about underutilizing expertise from the BC Wildfire Service, Mayor Lee Pratt was also concerned about spending $30,000 to train city firefighters when BC Wildfire Service personnel already supplement any burn operations on municipal property.

Price noted it has been a few years since the last prescribed burn; one was set for last fall, however, a short window to conduct the operation was missed.

According to a staff report, CFES has partnered with BC Wildfire Service, ?Aq’am, Robert Gray Consulting and the City of Kimberley to build a regional group of qualified burn team members.

Price says his firefighters already have picked up some skills working with the BC Wildfire Service.

“Right now, we have a number of staff who have gone to work with the Ministry of Forests with their wildfire crews, so they have the actual on-the-ground firefighting experience,” Price said. “We’ve got two guys who did fire management…

“When we get these things happening on the permitter of Cranbrook, we sure hope one of those guys show up, because it’s a whole different business.”

Price added that there are opportunities for cost-recovery of the $30,000 through grant applications for wildfire treatment through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM).