British Columbia

Funding cut to Vancouver rescue team

Emergency disaster response in Vancouver could be compromised by a federal funding cut, says the city's "shell-shocked" fire chief.

Ottawa axes $2.1M for urban search and rescue squads

Rescue team cut

10 years ago
Duration 2:19
Vancouver's Urban Search and Rescue Team is 'shell-shocked' by federal budget cuts 2:19

Vancouver's fire chief is "shell-shocked" that the federal government is withdrawing funding to the city's specialized emergency disaster response team.

CBC News has learned the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program is being axed. It provides $2.1 million annually for training and equipment to five urban teams across Canada.

"We're a little shell-shocked," said Vancouver fire Chief John McKearney on Thursday. "We want to have discussions with the federal Public Safety Canada — I'm yet to have that — to find out what the future holds for this team."

The units are trained to respond to domestic and international disasters such as earthquakes. Members of Vancouver’s Urban Search and Rescue Team are drawn from fire, police and other city departments.

Federal support for the program seemed solid when Public Safety Minister Vic Toews attended last August’s opening of a new training and storage facility for the Vancouver team.

But last week, his department indicated the program will end in March 2013. A memo which was leaked online said, "The original objectives of this program, namely, to enhance local emergency preparedness and response capacity, have been met."

The Vancouver team helped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. McKearney says it needs federal support and coordination to be ready for a tremor in B.C.

$3 million in rescue equipment

The team currently owns about 30 tons of rescue equipment valued at over $3 million. But the gear has a limited shelf life and the plan to replace it depends on the federal program.

"It's very expensive tools, and people have to be ready and committed and capable of enacting those services when the call comes," McKearney told CBC News.

Shirley Bond, B.C.’s justice minister and attorney general, said the federal funding cut surprised the province.

"Any time we see that kind of reduction in funding it's a concern to us and our senior staff was on it as soon as it was made aware to us," she said.

McKearney says the team is now scrambling to find a way to salvage the program.

With files from the CBC's Lisa Johnson and Mike Clarke