Ingraham Trail residents would have to pay at least $4,000 a year to keep fire service from the City of Yellowknife, a GNWT document states, with just days remaining until fire coverage expires.
The city’s fire division will stop responding to fires at properties on the trail at the end of March. The city says trying to cover the trail spreads resources too thinly and consequently endangers residents inside its municipal boundary.
With less than 10 days until that coverage dries up, the NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca) – which is responsible for helping residents to find some form of replacement option – has set up four in-person public engagement sessions at Dettah’s Chief Drygeese Centre from March 28-30. The sessions can also be attended virtually.
There is no indication that an interim solution will be in place by April 1.
In a document designed to provide Ingraham Trail residents with more information about possible options, Maca appears to dismiss most suggestions received to date. The only two solutions considered viable by the department are basic fire prevention with no fire response, or keeping the City of Yellowknife’s service – at significant extra cost, to be borne by the trail’s residents.
“Preliminary estimates associated with continuing the current level of service are $1.7 million startup costs plus an additional $1.2 million annually,” Maca tells residents in the document.
“These fees would be divided amongst residents that have properties located along Highways 3 and 4 where service could be provided. Not all properties on Highways 3and 4 can be accessed by fire service vehicles. The city would need to determine which roadways it is willing to respond along.”
Maca says that if 300 properties were included in this option, that would mean a first-year payment of $5,666 per property followed by $4,000 per property in future years. All figures are rough estimates and not finalized.
This basic annual fee would not include additional sums payable if the fire division is called out.
A trail resident needing fire response could expect to pay a basic $1,500 fee for the callout plus $500 for the first two hours, $200 for every additional two hours, and “applicable overtime costs for off-duty firefighters … to maintain city emergency services,” the document states.
“These fees would be much higher if the city pursued full cost recovery,” the department adds.
Most options not practical, says Maca
Other options presented in Maca’s document include asking Dettah’s fire division to help, using Yellowknife Airport’s fire crew, using wildfire response services, or creating a new fire department dedicated to the Ingraham Trail.
Maca says Dettah’s fire division has “not yet progressed to a stage where the fire department can safely respond to active fires” and the airport’s fire response unit is “not mandated nor resourced to provide structural fire coverage outside of its facilities.”
The department says wildfire crews only exist for 13 weeks of the year and don’t have the right training for structural fires, and Maca concludes creating a new fire department for the trail would be “ineffective and cost prohibitive.”
The document strongly suggests basic fire prevention is likely to be the only viable option.
“There are many remote locations across the NWT and Canada where structural fire response is not possible as it is viewed as being cost prohibitive,” Maca’s document states.
“In these cases, residents are encouraged to take action(s) in preventing fires by putting measures in place that that prevent fires, provide early notification and evacuation in the event of a fire, and protect property where safe to do so.
“Maca intends to offer additional information and support to area residents regarding fire prevention and protection efforts they can take. Working together to understand fire risks and how to implement critical fire safety measures will help limit losses and protect NWT residents from the threat of fire.”
The document does not specify what is set to happen on April 1, though it appears likely all fire coverage will cease and fire prevention measures will be the only immediate action residents can take to protect their property.
In a Facebook group for people who own property along the trail, discussion has more than once turned to setting up a fire response service among residents, though it appears efforts to coordinate such a service have so far gained little momentum.
“The options they are giving are pay six grand a year for coverage plus the cost of the call out or no service at all,” one group member wrote, summarizing Maca’s document.