EDMONTON — After years of being covered by Lac St. Anne County Fire Services, nine communities including Onoway and Alberta Beach have hired a private contractor to take over emergency services.
As of Jan. 1, 2016, North West Fire Rescue-Onoway Ltd., operating as Onoway Regional Fire Services, will respond to everything from motor vehicle collisions, structure and wildland fire response, medical response and hazmat calls.
Onoway Regional Fire Services Fire Chief David Ives said their goal is to have more members, better training and faster response times.
“We have firefighters available around the clock, particularly in the daytime when volunteer departments have a hard time mustering staff.” Ives told Global News.
Ives called the initiative a “hybrid private fire company” that merges a company that offers services to industry, with municipal front-line 911 response.
“(There was) a lot of discussion on what needed to be filled and how do we come about filling them,” Ives said in an interview outside of the Alberta Beach Fire Station, one of two that have since been taken over by the private company.
Alberta Beach Mayor Jim Benedict said they started those conversations after Lac St. Anne County Fire Services came to them with a proposal.
“They were raising our rates and moving our fire hall out of Alberta Beach.”
Benedict said not only would taxes have to go up to cover it, the cost of insurance would also go up without a fire station.
“It was unacceptable to us.”
The cost of bringing in the private company was less and it meant they would keep their fire station. It’s now undergoing a major renovation to allow for living quarters for firefighters, so they are able to respond even faster. The construction is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month.
Alberta Beach, Castle Island, Nakamun Park, Onoway, Silver Sands, South View, Sunset Point, Val Quentin and Yellowstone are now all covered by the company.
It also has Mutual Aid Agreements with Parkland County Fire Services, Sturgeon County Protective Services and Alexander First Nation. But not everyone wants to be a part of it. Ives said the previous service provider, Lac St. Anne County Fire Services, refused mutual aid offerings.
“What that means is in areas, sometimes mere blocks from our fire stations, we are not allowed to respond,” Ives said and added they want to be able to help their neighbours, and would like their neighbours to be able to help them.
“We’re ready, we’re trained and we’re willing to help.”
Global News contacted the county manager who said they didn’t wish to comment on the story.
Onoway Regional Fire Services currently has five career fire service officers, two full-time firefighters, 22 part-time firefighter/medics and eight paid, on-call firefighters.
It’s on track to double the number of paid, on-call firefighters by summer and are now recruiting. The next class of recruits starts next week.