Any impasse that may have been hindering progress on getting a regional fire services agreement might have been taken care of.
A meeting between representatives from Ponoka County and the Town of Ponoka on Tuesday, Nov. 24 seems to have created a breakthrough and removed the stumbling blocks that saw talks between the municipalities on establishing a regional fire department bog down during the last 12 months of discussions.
Recently, the county began forging its own path on regionalization by passing motions to set up its own fire department to cover the eastern region in order to be prepared if an agreement wasn’t reached by April 28, 2016 – the date the current fire protection agreement between the two expires.
However, according to statements made at the Town of Ponoka’s council meeting on Nov. 24, movement has been made toward signing a new agreement in favour of a regional fire service.
“As long as we get the same level of fire service that we have now, or better … that’s what we want,” stated town interim chief administrative officer (CAO) Doug Wright at the meeting.
Discussions between Wright and Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth have already begun, as the pair was scheduled to meet earlier this week and the hope of both men is to have a draft agreement complete before Wright’s contract is up at the end of January.
As for the county, they are continuing to put a contingency plan in place to provide service should it be necessary.
Regional fire chief Dennis Jones updated county council at their regular Nov. 24 meeting on the status of those plans.
Jones explained they currently have 16 applicants, as well as about six more pending, that are all either current or previous members of the Ponoka Fire Department. In addition, Jones has secured commitments to maintain mutual aid agreements with all of the surrounding municipalities along with receiving offers to provide apparatus and a variety of firefighting equipment and gear from various department should they need it. There has also been an offer by a local industrial company to provide a building for a temporary fire hall.
“What that all means is we currently have in place the manpower, location, equipment and support necessary to begin providing fire protection service to the residents of the east side of the county should there be no signed agreement with the town upon the expiration of the present one,” he said.