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MD of Bighorn pursuing fire-rescue risk assessment

“The MD of Bighorn has experienced significant growth along the Bow Valley Highway 1 corridor in recent years,”
MD of Bighorn building winter 4
The MD of Bighorn administration building in Exshaw. RMO FILE PHOTO

MD OF BIGHORN – A fire-rescue risk assessment will soon be underway after MD of Bighorn council voted to move ahead with a request for proposal.

Municipal council unanimously supported going forward with hiring a third-party consultant at its Tuesday (March 14) meeting with the intent of providing better fire services for residents.

“The MD of Bighorn has experienced significant growth along the Bow Valley Highway 1 corridor in recent years,” said Bighorn’s director of protective services Andrew Box.

“The fire risk assessment will, at minimum, assess past fire losses as well as identify demographic, structural, infrastructure, fire response, community hazard and economic profiles.”

Municipal administration will look for potential grants, but without any being found it plans to return to council for approval of using operating reserves.

The fire risk assessment will additionally look at staffing levels and equipment needs as well as the necessary fire-rescue services needed in the region.

Shaina Tutt, director of corporate and community services, said a maximum amount could be set and if it exceeds that amount, it would come back to council.

“You can pick an amount you are comfortable funding from reserves,” Tutt said.

“This allows us to move forward with the tender proposal and we can bring the results back, as well as the cost.”

Coun. Jen Smith said if a grant is available, she would like to move forward.

“It should only have to come back to us if it has to come from reserves,” she said.

“If you can find the money elsewhere – go. I think this is vital.”

Box told council more than 50 per cent of Bighorn residents live in Harvie Heights, Dead Man’s Flats and Lac Des Arcs, according to the 2021 census.

A staff report stated the closest fire station to those areas is in Exshaw, with Dead Man’s Flats and Harvie Heights receiving fire and rescue services through a fire service lease with the Town of Canmore.

The MD of Bighorn and Town of Canmore councils separately approved a two-year agreement. While Canmore council quickly approved the agreement at a Dec. 20, 2022 meeting, Bighorn council did so reluctantly.

At its Dec. 13, 2022, Bighorn council meeting, Box praised the professionalism of Canmore Fire-Rescue and that it was closer to Harvie Heights and Dead Man’s Flats for response times since Exshaw Fire-Rescue was further away and staffed by volunteer firefighters.

However, he told council at the time Bighorn administration disagreed with the costs brought forward by Town of Canmore senior leadership.

Box said he estimated the cost of the services based on service calls between 2019-21 and the fire fee schedule provided by the Town to be about $63,000 per year. However, Box said Canmore’s administration came with a fee that was 142 per cent greater than that.

Box said administrative, insurance and reserve contributions and equipment and vehicle replacement costs were noted by Canmore administration as additional cost factors.

Box noted the MD could complete a cost analysis to show the total expenses needed for a comparable level of service in those areas.

“The MD identified that the cost of the agreement was significantly greater than the value of services provided and anticipated cost increases made future agreements untenable,” a staff report for the March 14 meeting stated.