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Topley Volunteer Fire Department eyes expansion

But money is lacking for the project
The society that supports the Topley Volunteer Fire Department has hopes someday that it can expand the fire hall. (Laura Blackwell photo/Houston Today)

The society that supports the Topley Volunteer Fire Department is taking a pause on its plans to expand the hall that provides a home for the rural service which covers the area east of Houston.

It still wishes to add to the structure and earlier this year received a quote of $343,000 from a local contractor but lacks the money for the work, says Glenn Kelly who is the president of the Topley Fire Protection Society and an assistant captain with the fire department.

And while the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako agrees with the rationale to expand the building, it also has no money.

Kelly said an expansion of 28 feet by 48 feet will better enable the department to store its vehicles and equipment, providing a much better response time when its members are called out to an emergency.

“In just two weeks we had five vehicle rollovers,” said Kelly of a recent review of calls. “In this type of work, response time is critical.”

“I cannot stress that we are also talking about the safety of our members,” he added in view of the need to shift vehicles and equipment within the confines of the hall and immediate surroundings when answering a call.

Kelly also notes that because the regional district owns the fire hall, construction to increase its size would be managed by the regional district and the extra space would also become the property of the regional district.

“We know that the price will never be any less expensive,” said Kelly of the expansion quote received earlier this year.

“But we’re taking a step back to evaluate our position.”

Regional district fire chief Jason Blackwell said the challenge is that residents within the Topley fire protection area are already being taxed to the maximum and face steadily increasing costs for utilities, fuel and other operational necessities.

The taxes collected include an amount to build up a capital reserve “but due to the relatively small tax base and high operating expenses of a fire department, the contribution to the reserve at this time is minimal and not sufficient to fund a fire hall expansion,” said Blackwell.

He added that the reserves the fire department does have should be used to replace equipment and vehicles when they age out.

“Grants for capital projects are limited and quite competitive — as such the regional district has been unsuccessful in the past,” Blackwell added.

Fire protection within the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako is offered through a combination of agreements with municipal fire departments or stand alone rural ones such as the Topley Volunteer Fire Department.

The Topley department is also one of three rural ones that provides a road rescue service — the others are the Southside Fire Department and the Fort Fraser Fire Department both do as well.

Kelly said the Topley members train hard to receive first responder certifications because of the community’s location alongside Hwy16 between Houston and Burns Lake.

It is not uncommon for the volunteers to be on scene offering basic care or using the Jaws of Life before other first responders such as the RCMP or BC Ambulance arrive.

“I can tell you they appreciate and are thankful for what we do,” said Kelly.

There are 20 active members of Topley department and it is called out to various emergencies between 75 and 100 times a year.