Ingraham Trail residents and those outside the boundaries of the City of Yellowknife will be without municipal structure fire service as of April 1, 2021, city council confirmed on Monday night.
Council spent another meeting of more than two hours discussing the issue after extensive debate had been held at the Aug. 24. governance and priorities committee meeting. That meeting highlighted the divergent views of Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who defended his Ingraham Trail constituents and wanted to retain city fire service, and Coun. Niels Konge, who wanted to put an end to it.
Monday night’s meeting led to a final vote that had Mayor Rebecca Alty, councillors Konge, Robin Williams, Steve Payne, Stacie Smith in support of the recommendation to cease service. Those opposing were Julian Morse, Rommel Silverio, Cynthia Mufandaedza and Shauna Morgan.
Alty explained that since the beginning of this term, council has wanted to be more clear with residents about the level of fire service they can expect and that’s why the April 1 date was set to remove city fire service from Ingraham Trail residents.
She said people living along the trail and others outside municipal boundaries have been under the assumption that they can expect service from the Yk fire division, when that has never formally been the case.
The city’s argument has been that if a structural fire takes place outside of municipal boundaries and the city’s fire department responds, that increases risk because those resources could be potentially needed in the city during a simultaneous emergency.
“Right now our standard is that we come if we can,” Alty said during the meeting. “My problem with the status quo is that (Ingraham Trail residents) and city don’t have the same expectations.”
This means that if the city is busy with other fire tasks, an Ingraham Trail structural fire wouldn’t be the priority.
“Their definition is you will come when we need it. These are very different definitions in terms of how to create standard of cover, as per the level of service,” the mayor said.
Council also asked city administration to review the fire division’s “mutual aid agreements,” which are documented understandings with specific outside groups and organizations where human power and other resources can be shared during a fire emergency.
The motion also calls for all fees and tax breakdowns related to the fire division to be reviewed to give council a full picture of how much services are costing.
Resident push back
Monday night’s meeting included two separate presentations from residents Jerry Vanhantsaeme and Les Harrison, who both oppose the suspension of structural fire services along the Ingraham Trail.
Vanhantsaeme said that while he doesn’t think the city should be financially responsible for providing fire service, he believes a solution has to be found because of old-growth trees in the area and the potential for fires to get out of hand and spread from structure to structure.
He said he agrees that the GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs needs to come up with a solution to avoid potential wildfires that have engulfed Alberta municipalities like Fort McMurray or Slave Lake in past years, as well as much of the northwest United States.
“If we say this isn’t going to happen here we have our heads in the sand,” he said.
Vanhantsaeme presented some potential possibilities to ensure Ingraham Trail residents can retain some fire service, namely by situating a fire station on Ingraham Trail. He said that Prelude Lake as a central location could be one option. He also suggested that the GNWT could fund the city “on a cost-capture basis” and provide some funding to upgrade or purchase new equipment.
He also suggested having a small fire station located near the Dettah turnoff with a few volunteers.
Harrison, on behalf of 10 families and individuals on Hudson Trail on Prelude Lake West, said in his presentation that the city should continue providing fire services to Ingraham Trail residents until an alternative arrangement can be developed by the GNWT.
“It would be absolutely impossible for an alternative service to be put in place for us for April 2021,” Harrison said. “We feel the City of Yellowknife is in the best position to continue these services.”
Even though the level of service package was passed on Monday night, Alty said the city remains open to considering other agreements or revisions.
“I would say that the door is not closed and that by approving the level of service we are not closed to future contracts or mutual aid agreements,” she said. “If the GNWT, for example, were to come up with a fire protection to leaseholders and create their own fire division if they wanted to contract the city, we would be willing to have those discussions.”