A three story building, surrounded by trees, beside a road.

Cortes Fire Department meeting with the SRD

Last week, Sadhu Johnston, President of the Cortes Island Fire Fighters Association met with David Leitch, Chief Administrative Officer of the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) and two of his staff.

“There was  a lot of smoke and not a lot of fire in there. We ended up having a very productive conversation and we’ll be entering into contract negotiations for another five year contract for firefighting on Cortes. It was very productive and they were really willing to work with us and address the unique needs of Cortes and find ways to address concerns in working together,” said Johnston.  

Screenshot of Sadhu Johnston taken during the interview

There has been tension between the SRD and Cortes Island Fire Department recently. The fire department’s five year contract was not renewed, when it came up earlier this year. Instead Cortes was put on a monthly contract. There was talk of establishing a centralized service with a Fire Chief in Campbell River. 

However when the SRD finally unveiled the plan they were working on, at their April 26 Board meeting, it was for a service that would actually support volunteer fire departments like Cortes. The SRD feasibility study found that communities are interested in a ‘shopping list’ approach, where local fire departments can pick the items they wish to subscribe to. 

Johnston explained,  “As you know, I’ve worked on shared services before and the track that the SRD is on makes a lot of sense. There are things that they would make regionally available to different fire departments to be able to opt into. Like shared resources around training, maintaining trucks and equipment. They’ll have some expertise on staff that we can access for direct support, and we’ll help them with their oversight of the various firefighting functions across the region.”

“I think there’s a real value add there to take some of the burden off of the board here, as well as our own firefighting staff, Chief and others.  I think that will evolve over time, but will offer us some things that will benefit us.”

CC: Do you think it’ll save us money?  

SJ: “There’s definitely potential.  When you do everything on your own,  you are on your own – versus if you can hire someone to come in and do some training and they could train a number of fire departments at once. There’s economies of scale that you can get there. Depending on how it evolves, there’s some opportunities for some savings  and ultimately just better performance.” 

CC: Are there any reasons to be concerned right now? 

SJ: “I don’t think so. We’re eager to get going with the new contract because we’re on a month to month contract right now and we want to hire a permanent Chief and we need a five year contract to do that but they were ready to proceed. We just need to get into the nitty gritty of what changes we might need in a new contract, but, I didn’t see anything really to be concerned about.” 

“Great to see the level of support from Cortes residents for the firefighting function on Cortes.  We had a lot of people on Zoom, a lot of people in the room,  a lot of emails of support and that’s amazing. That manifests itself as people stepping up to be volunteers and to helping out with the department, both on the board, and in the fire trucks and in the trainings. It’s just really encouraging to see the level of support that there is on Cortes for what we’re doing through the fire department.” 

Top photo credit: Screenshot of the SRD Building taken through Google Maps

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