Edmonton

Firefighting feud west of Edmonton still hampering response times, fire chief says

One year after residents sounded the alarm over a firefighting dispute between the Town of Onoway and the County of Lac Ste. Anne west of Edmonton, one fire chief says things have only slightly improved.

'When somebody is in need, they need medical assistance. People don't really care which department responds'

Onoway Regional Fire Rescue Chief Dave Ives says his department and Lac St. Anne County need to work together to improve emergency response times. (CBC)

One year after residents sounded the alarm over a firefighting dispute between the Town of Onoway and the County of Lac Ste. Anne west of Edmonton, one fire chief says things have only slightly improved.

Dave Ives, Onoway Regional Fire Rescue chief, said Tuesday Lac Ste. Anne still needs to stop pointing fingers and collaborate more with neighbouring fire departments to speed up emergency response times.

"When somebody is in need, they need medical assistance," he said. "People don't really care which fire department responds."

After months of refusal, Lac Ste. Anne County signed a mutual-aid agreement in October with eight neighbouring communities. 

In an October media release, Lac Ste. Anne's mayor described the negotiation process as "complex and problematic."

The agreement allows neighbouring fire departments to operate beyond their municipal boundary as long as another jurisdiction requests the assistance.

What was left out of this agreement, Ives said, was an automatic dispatch system that would alert the closest fire department.

Areas in and around the county shouldn't need to undergo a lengthy process to request assistance, he said.

"A department has to first see the need for additional resources, and then make the request," Ives said.

Instead, a computer system should automatically dispatch the closest fire department, he added.

In an email Tuesday, Lac Ste. Anne county fire chief Randy Schroeder said the Oct. agreement is compehensive and "will provide enhanced benefits should the need arise to all area citizens."

'I got here before the ambulance'

Joe Blakeman lives in Lac Ste. Anne County, but his home is closer to a fire department outside the county.

Blakeman's daughter had an allergic reaction while alone at home last spring. She called 911, but emergency services took so long to arrive, Blakeman made it home from work faster.

"I got here before the ambulance got here," Blakeman said.

His daughter recovered, thanks to an EpiPen self-injection.

But help would have arrived more quickly if the county allowed neighbouring fire departments to respond, he said.

Although cooperation has improved since his daughter's emergency, he still worries about slow response times because local governments and their politics seem to be getting in the way.

"It's still not where it should be. It's because of the bureaucracy," Blakeman said.

Joe Blakeman fears a firefighting dispute between the Town of Onoway and Lac Ste. Anne County is putting lives and property at risk. (CBC)

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