Cape Breton fire department turns to GoFundMe to replace troublesome truck

Florence fire chief says their current truck has broken down three times in last two months, while on call.
Florence fire chief says their current truck has broken down three times in last two months, while on call. Florence Volunteer Fire Department

The Florence Volunteer Fire Department in Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) is taking an unconventional approach to raise money for a new fire truck.

The fire station has created a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising $350,000 to purchase a new pumper truck, which carries the hose, water and tools to a fire and pumps water onto a fire.

Florence Fire Chief, Dave Julian, told Global News his department has been in need of a new truck for a while now.

“Our current truck has gotten very sluggish and is 17 years old. It’s not the oldest truck in CBRM by any means…but it’s the busiest of the older trucks,” Julian said.

He says the Florence fire station responds to approximately 300 emergencies per year, while covering the largest area in all the CBRM.

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A recent series of breakdowns prompted Julian to resort to online fundraising.

“We had 12 structure fires in two months plus our regular everyday calls. Our truck broke down on three of those calls. We had to rely on our 20-year-old truck as back up,” Julian said.

Their current pumper truck is in the CBRM garage for repairs. Julian’s department will rely on a backup truck while repairs are being done.

CBRM is ‘behind the times’

On their GoFundMe page, Julian has taken aim at CBRM Fire Services, saying they are “behind the times” when it comes to funding.

Currently, CBRM Fire Services provides $125,000 to detachments who are purchasing a new truck. Julian says it’s not enough.

“The $125,000 isn’t even enough to cover the cab of the truck, which is $130,000. When we bought the current truck we are trying to replace we got $125,000 back then, 17 years ago. That truck cost $250,000 back then. It’s almost $400,000 now,” Julian said.

Chris March, Deputy Fire Chief of CBRM Fire Services, says there’s a process in place for purchasing a new truck.

He says once a truck reaches 25 years of age, a fire department is then eligible for the $125,000.

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He adds that if a truck is deemed unusable before the 25 year mark, CBRM Fire Services will look for a used fire truck to replace it. Otherwise, all fire trucks are maintained and in service for up to 25 years.

March says as of April 1 of this year, vehicle maintenance costs for all CBRM fire engines is now covered by the municipality.

Under the current criteria, the Florence Fire Department would have to wait another eight years before they’re eligible for funding for a new truck.

“I understand where they are coming from … but we are limited in funding,” March said.

The annual budget for CBRM Fire Services was recently raised to $1 million, up from $600,000 in previous years. That money goes to support all 34 fire departments within CBRM.

The Florence Fire Department currently receives $67,000 per year — more money than any other rural department within the municipality according to March.

Julian says “that isn’t as much as it sounds.”

He says the $67,000 they receive has to cover the cost of equipment for the trucks and 25 firefighters; fuel and insurance for all vehicles; as well as maintaining two rescue trucks at the station.

“We are left with negative $10,000 or +$ 2,000 depending on the year we had. So there isn’t much room for growth,” Julian said.

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He adds this isn’t a problem for just their department — most rural fire departments are in the same boat.

CBRM fire services under review

The area’s councillor says CBRM council recently completed a fire service review of existing services, equipment and vehicles.

Councillor Clarence Prince says a fire services committee has been established to work with fire administration to explore all options to ensure the public’s safety.

“We hope to establish, in the near future, a multi-year projection of costs for new versus used apparatus, and it is our expectation that our budget allow for all future fire apparatus purchases to be new,” Prince said.

Julian says his department will continue to fundraise through events at the fire station and have already raised $750 through their GoFundMe page. He’s also hoping the federal and provincial governments will help out.

In the meantime he says it’s business as usual for the department.

“We don’t give up and we don’t stop fundraising, we never did,” says Julian.

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