Skip to content

Parks looking to Golden, Lake Louise fire departments for road rescue in Yoho National Park

“Basically, Parks Canada plans to unload road rescue services, in the area of jurisdiction for Parks Canada, on the two adjoining fire departments and get the province of British Columbia to pay for it."
Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 8.20.23 AM
The community of Field B.C.'s emergency services hall. GOOGLE MAPS IMAGE

FIELD – Members of the community of Field believe Parks Canada is trying to download its responsibility to provide road rescue service in Yoho National Park onto neighbouring jurisdictions.

Parks Canada is exploring options to hand over road rescue services in Yoho National Park to Lake Louise Fire Department for accidents and vehicle fires east of Field and to Golden Fire Department for incidents west of the hamlet.

But residents are concerned about response times, citing two separate incidents in October where truck drivers were trapped inside their vehicles for several hours waiting for Golden Fire Department to arrive.

Kathryn Cameron, president of Field Recreation and Advisory Association, said response time to any road rescue incident is critical, noting Field Fire and Rescue can respond much faster with a team that is trained and competent.

“Basically, Parks Canada plans to unload road rescue services, in the area of jurisdiction for Parks Canada, on the two adjoining fire departments and get the province of British Columbia to pay for it,” she said.

“It’s loaded with flaws. Like the decision to not fund a full-time fire chief that would actually meet Parks Canada responsibility for their area of jurisdiction to provide fire protection and emergency response in Yoho National Park.”

Lake Louise Fire Department, which has faced its own recruitment challenges over the years, has a minimum 30-minute response time to Field over the 27 kilometres.

Golden is 57 kilometres away and the stretch of highway between Golden and Field is in an area where a four-year construction project to twin 4.8-kilometres of Kicking Horse Canyon is about to get underway, which means travel delays.

The Lake Louise Fire Department is governed by the Lake Louise Banff Municipal Services Society, which is run by a board of directors.

Parks Canada has sent a formal request to the society for Lake Louise Fire Department to enter into a formal agreement. The board is reviewing that request this month.

Danielle Morine, the society’s executive director, said there have been no changes at this time to the scope of the Lake Louise Fire Department.

“However, we are exploring options to support our neighbours to the west while still ensuring the safety of our taxpayers and community,” she said.   

“At this time, there is nothing more concrete to share.”

Golden town council has previously turned down a request to do road rescue in Yoho National Parks and Golden Mayor Ron Oszust has said the current situation, which has involved responding to serious highway accidents while Field currently is not, is unsustainable.

Jon Wilsgard, chief administrative officer for the Town of Golden, said this week that he will be responding to Parks Canada’s most recent letter in the coming days.

“At some point, I will need to have town council set both short and long-term policy associated with road rescue east of the park gate near Golden,” he said.

Under Parks Canada’s proposal, it is understood that Emergency Management British Columbia reimburses any fire department that responds out of the jurisdiction in the province of B.C.

That would mean responses to road rescue in Yoho National Park led by either Lake Louise or Golden fire departments will be reimbursed.

Cameron said Parks Canada is legally required to provide road rescue services in Yoho National Park.

She said this approach seems to download the same concerns expressed by Field fire department to two other volunteer fire departments that deal with the same difficult responses.

“At no cost to Parks Canada,” she said.

Under Parks Canada’s plan, Field Fire and Rescue would continue to provide structure fire protection services to Field and Yoho National Park.

Cameron said residents continue to see a full-time paid fire chief in Field as the best solution moving forward.

“Having a dedicated position that oversees operations of Field Fire and Rescue on every level just makes sense when having trained, competent emergency response on the Trans-Canada Highway and in Yoho National Park is critical,” she said. 

For well over a year now, the 16-member volunteer Field Fire and Rescue Department has been negotiating with Parks for a stronger department, including a full-time paid fire chief. There have been five fire chiefs in as many years.

The demoralized department had been dealing with a growing number of emergency calls on the highway with increasing visitation, greater liability burdens, time demands and administrative requirements to operate a fire department.

Cameron said Parks Canada's expectations from volunteer firefighters are unrealistic.

“I wish I could give some logical explanation why Parks Canada has resisted hiring a full-time fire chief for decades, but I can’t,” she said.

“It has really come to the boiling point since the last Parks Canada employee who served as fire chief resigned to take a job in the Okanagan.”

For years before this point, Cameron said many fire chiefs worked for Parks Canada and were able to conduct Field Fire and Rescue business on paid time, with the permission and support of their supervisors and management.

“Subsequent fire chiefs have had full-time employment with other organizations/businesses and the same leeway just isn’t available,” she said.

“That meant fire chief duties were done after work and on days off, which encroached on family and personal interest time. It became a volunteer position that members felt they personally didn't have the time or energy to commit to taking on.”

A spokesperson for Parks Canada was unavailable at the time of publication, but a statement said that public safety is of the utmost importance.

“Parks Canada continues to work with neighbouring jurisdictions on sustainable solutions for the provision of emergency services in Yoho National Park,” it stated. “Parks Canada continues to be in discussion with both the Town of Golden and the Lake Louise Fire Department about long-term provision of emergency road response services on the Trans-Canada Highway through Yoho National Park.”

While the Field fire department is no longer responding to any highway calls related to vehicle fires or motor vehicle collisions, the fire department continues to respond to structural fire calls in Field, and surrounding areas.

Golden Fire Department, RCMP, B.C. Ambulance, STARS air ambulance and Parks Canada Visitor Safety continue to respond to road related emergencies.