For decades, four Greater Victoria fire departments have helped each other out, each department responding to fires and emergencies in other municipalities.
But this week, the city of Victoria announced they were backing out of the deal, leaving its partners shocked.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said Kevin Murdoch, Oak Bay mayor.
“It did come as a bit of a surprise,” said Esquimalt’s Mayor, Barbara Desjardins.
“We were all surprised,” said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes.
But for the city of Victoria, it’s simple. The mutual fire aid agreement isn’t so mutual anymore.
From 2015-2020, here’s how the requests for mutual aid have gone:
- Oak Bay requesting Victoria 21
- Victoria requesting Oak Bay 0
- Saanich requesting Victoria 4
- Victoria requesting Saanich 2 (+ 5 non-active fire responses)
- Esquimalt requesting Victoria 3
- Victoria requesting Esquimalt 0
As a result, the city of Victoria says they, and their taxpayers, have been funding the emergency responses of other municipalities unfairly.
At the city staff level, fire chiefs have tried to reach an agreement since 2015, but talks fizzled.
And now, Victoria’s mayor says the old agreement is obsolete.
“The mutual aid, just to give you some context, is 40 years old. It’s from 1980. In 1980, I was four years old,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “I think it’s poor governance to not look at agreements every five years.”
The city of Victoria is pitching a pay-for-service model, used elsewhere in the region for things like policing. But not all municipalities are immediately on board.
“At this time a fee for service is not a part of our discussion,” said Mayor Desjardins. “It’s not about the dollars and cents, it’s about the overall safety of the region.”
For now, all leaders underscored that fire service won’t be impacted, and they’re optimistic a new agreement will be reached soon.