The Cariboo Regional District and City of Williams Lake mandatory vaccine mandates come into effect Monday, Jan. 17 and include firefighters. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

The Cariboo Regional District and City of Williams Lake mandatory vaccine mandates come into effect Monday, Jan. 17 and include firefighters. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

CRD vaccine mandate looms over rural fire departments in Cariboo

Some fire departments are preparing to lose volunteers

Some volunteer fire departments in the region will lose members when the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) mandatory vaccine policy comes into effect.

Employees with the CRD will be required to be fully vaccinated, including CRD directors, staff, contractors and volunteers and must provide proof of vaccine to the human resources department by Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

The CRD funds 14 volunteer fire departments in the Cariboo region.

Miocene fire chief Quintin Duhamel confirmed Miocene will lose five out of 20 members.

“It’s a tough one,” he said. “Our call volume has increased and 80 per cent of our calls are medical, including responding to some positive COVID cases.”

Duhamel said the department is always recruiting and has seen a 40 per cent loss in the last three years due to members retiring and aging out.

Wildwood fire chief Brad Elliott confirmed Wildwood will be impacted.

“I will lose some members due to the vaccine mandate,” Elliott said.

The 150 Mile House Volunteer Fire Department chief said he will report to the CRD after the Jan. 17 deadline as to whether there will be any loss of members due to the mandate.

John MacLean, chief administrative officer of the CAO, said some of the halls have sent in information already in terms of what the impacts are and the CRD continues to plan accordingly.

“We are setting up contingency plans. If we have a hall that has large scale reduction in staffing we’ll set up our mutual aid and our automatic aid with neighbouring halls and then go from there. We continue to talk to the folks and see how we can continue to offer services. As long as we have membership able to respond, we will continue to offer the services.”

There has been an online petition circulating that someone set up protesting the mandate, which MacLean said has been sent to elected officials.

“This is not something that is traditionally petitionable,” MacLean said. “It is expressing an opinion.”

Grieve noted the department will also be instituting automatic aid for all other calls starting Jan. 17 to assist them due to low membership numbers and daily availability.

Fire departments in the Cariboo such as Big Lake, Horsefly and McLeese Lake are not funded by the CRD and won’t be impacted by the mandate.

Big Lake fire chief Joel Bruneski, however, said while the department has not implemented a mandatory vaccine policy, there are procedures in place to ensure social distancing, assessments before entering any scene, and doing self-checks to make sure nobody is spreading the disease.

The COVID-19 vaccine debate is a ‘really difficult situation’ that impacts people in both camps, he added.

“It’s a tough decision, honouring people’s freedoms while at the same time providing adequate protection for the public. At the point we are at, we are attempting to do both. Our overall mandate is to be here for the community, to protect the community and we can’t do that if we don’t have members, but we can’t do that if we are spreading disease. As I said, it’s a touchy situation and it is unfortunate that it has come to the point where people have to decide whether they are going to continue volunteering or not because volunteers are in short supply as it is.”

McLeese Lake fire department member Ian Hicks said the pandemic and mandates for gatherings and vaccination have put a ‘real damper’ on training and practices.

“Though we all agree it’s probably for the best it’s still a struggle,” Hicks said. “Even without all of this to put together a volunteer group in a small community is a tough go.”

On Thursday, June 13, Lone Butte Fire Department chief Jon Grieve posted a public statement on Facebook noting due to the mandate there will be insufficient members to adequately and responsibly provide services for medical first responder.

“It pains us all to restrict this service temporarily until restrictions ease but in the community’s best interest we cannot offer this service without confidence we have enough members to both attend and remain available for another call,” he stated.

On Monday, Jan. 17, the city of Williams Lake’s mandatory vaccine policy also goes into effect.

Fire chief Erick Peterson said he anticipates losing one or two members.

“I don’t expect it to dramatically effect the department,” he said, confirming at present there are 36 members and the department will be recruiting again in March.

READ MORE: CRD not anticipating closures of fire halls due to vaccine mandate

READ MORE: City of Williams Lake to implement mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy

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