B.C. budget’s emphasis on climate disasters could lead better fire service in the Tri-Cities

Noting the increasingly dire risks associated with climate change, the province’s recently released budget puts $90 million toward community grants with an emphasis on managing wildfire risk – it’s money that could be well-used in the Tri-Cities, according to Port Moody deputy fire chief Kirk Heaven.

The city’s firefighters have been working to prevent and to mitigate a major fire, particularly a blaze on the border dividing Port Moody’s urban and forested areas.

“Originally we were not considered a high enough rating for more funding. We were able to build a good business case that, actually, yes, we are,” Heaven said, noting the city’s susceptibility to an interface fire.

Port Moody Fire Rescue recently applied for $200,000 in grants through the province’s Community Emergency Preparedness Fund. That includes $150,000 earmarked for “community resiliency investment.”

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Where the money goes

Previous grants have allowed the city to upgrade firefighter training through additional courses and to hire a contractor to provide assessments of possible risks in each area of the city.

“These grants have really, really helped us to bring our game up, Heaven said. “The biggest piece of everything is always our education. . . . That’s what we find is the most successful.”

Education encompasses initiatives ranging from FireSmart demonstrations in schools to having firefighters go door-to-door to point out potential hazards.

“That could be as simple as cleaning your gutters out, . . . [or] making sure there’s no combustibles underneath your deck,” Heaven said.

Port Moody has also applied for two grants totalling $50,000 that would be spent on improving emergency operations centres and support services.

“We live in a beautiful area here in Port Moody but we do have the interface behind us and we have to respect it.”

Port Coquitlam recently applied for a grant designed to facilitate better communication amid a climate emergency, noted Port Coquitlam Fire Chief Robert Kipps.

The alerting system would let residents know where and when cooling and warming centers are located, Kipps explained.

Port Coquitlam has also applied for a grant that would train municipal staff on the best ways to help displaced residents during extreme climate emergencies, Kipps noted.

The City of Coquitlam is assessing various grants and funding streams in the 2022 budget and considering which ones to apply for, according to a statement from the city’s general manager of finance Michelle Hunt.

Year-round wildfire service

B.C.’s budget also includes making BC Wildfire Services a year-round service, as well as better assessments of floodplains and climate risk mapping.

The budget notes “gradual changes like water shortages, changes in growing seasons and sea level rise.”

“The scale of the problems we have seen recently – from the ongoing pandemic to the devastating effects of climate-related disasters – require government leadership and collective action,” stated finance minister and Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson. “We know that the strength of our economy is intertwined with the well-being of people, communities and the climate.”

Budget could boost assistance for homeless people in the Tri-Cities

More resources may still be needed but the B.C. budget is a step in the right direction in terms of addressing homelessness, according to Polly Krier coordinator for the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group.

“Happy to see there was a significant amount of funds that were dedicated to homelessness and mental health issues. Obviously, never enough,” Krier added.

The province is set to put $633 million over three years toward a variety of initiatives, including rent supplements, complex care for people with “significant mental health and/or substance use challenges,” as well as extending support for youth aging out of care until age 27.

Extending support for youth is much needed, Krier said.

“[Youth] often get lost in the shuffle and then all the good work that’s been done in the years that they have been under the care of the ministry is gone. They’re back out on the streets,” she said.

It’s difficult to understand the magnitude of youth homelessness, according to Krier. Many young people couch surf or find other temporary accommodations, making the issue a somewhat invisible problem, she explained.

The B.C. budget includes $35 million to be spent over three years to support youth beyond their 19th birthday through rent supplements as well as income enhancements and life-skills programming.

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