Budget puts brakes on new fire trucks for N.L. towns
Municipal affairs minister says reduction in funding due to deficit, unrelated to post-election year
The province is drastically reducing what it spends on new firefighting equipment in this year’s budget, leaving towns waiting for new fire trucks scrambling to get to the front of the line.
Eastport is one of dozens of towns on the list. The town’s fire truck is almost 25 years old, and is nearing the end of its usefulness as a primary pumper.
For two years, the town has been on a waiting list for a new one — a list that's 60 trucks long.
"Government has got to take a look at where the fire trucks are going and really consider us in this area," Eastport Mayor Genevieve Squire told CBC News.
Last year — an election year — the province bought 22 new fire trucks.
This year, the number has been reduced to seven. And the budget for new equipment has been slashed in half.
"It's disappointing," Squire said. "We realize that there's only so much money to go around, but when you have so many volunteer firefighters all across this island — volunteering their time to try and make their communities safe — when we get cut like we had this year, it's very, very upsetting."
Almost two weeks ago, Rosie's Restaurant and Bakery burned to the ground in Eastport.
Firefighters say they could have saved one of the buildings if they'd had a second truck.
"If we had a backup truck we probably would have saved most of that building at that time," volunteer firefighter Harvey Senior said.
Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien is in charge of fire truck procurement.
He said last year's truck glut had nothing to do with the election and everything to do with a budget surplus.
Now that a deficit is again forecast, O’Brien says the government has to be more careful — at least for now.
The province is also planning to regionalize firefighting services.
"We have to determine exactly how many vehicles that we do need in the province before we invest too heavily and invest in the wrong places," O’Brien said.
The fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, Vince MacKenzie, represents 200 fire departments in the province.
He says government's decision to spend less on new equipment is disappointing.