+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 12-16F

Wildland Fire Fighting Costs

Date:
October 26, 2016
Expiry Date:
November 30, 2019
Active Status:
Active
Sponsors:
Parkland County
District:
3 - Pembina River
Year:
2016
Convention:
Fall
Category:
Industry and Resource Development
Status:
Intent Not Met
Vote Results:
Carried
Preamble:

WHEREAS increasing frequency and duration of wildfires outside the Forest Protection Area is negatively impacting municipal budgets and fire services; and

WHEREAS these fires are beyond the scope of resources, training and financial capacity for many of Alberta’s rural fire services; and

WHEREAS through the Mutual Aid Fire Control Agreement with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the municipality may request specialized resources such as air tankers and wildland firefighting crews, which come at substantial cost; and 

WHEREAS municipalities may have mutual aid agreements with surrounding fire services that are also limited in capabilities and training; and

WHEREAS due to the costs of calling for the assistance of provincial resources, the required resources and expertise is often delayed, aiding in the spread of fires that could easily be contained if the proper resources and expertise were on the scene; and

WHEREAS the provincial government has access to both the resources and expertise to assist in the control and extinguishment of wildland fires;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge the Government of Alberta to enter into mutual aid agreements with municipalities outside of the Forest Protection Area that do not involve a fee for service for provincially-controlled and paid-for wildland fire fighting resources.

Member Background:

Increasing frequency and duration of wildland fires outside the Forest Protection Area is negatively impacting municipal budgets and fire services.  These fire are beyond the scope of resources, training and financial capacity for many of Alberta’s rural fire services. The typical grass or brush fires have been managed by most fire services over the years but increasingly these fires have become major events, lasting weeks. Many of these events have required extensive local resources and mutual aid assistance to effectively control and contain the fire risk. This extended wildfire occurrence is triggered from multiple factors such as drought, fuel conditions in developed areas, rapid fire growth, and limited firefighting resources.

Municipalities may have mutual aid agreements with surrounding fire services but they too are limited in capabilities and training. Through the Mutual Aid Fire Control Agreement with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the municipality may request specialized resources such as air tankers and wildland firefighting crews. These resource come at substantial cost and this is a major pressure to municipal budgets. 

The increasing size of these wildland fires is a major risk to the municipal fire fighters who are often inadequately equipped or trained to manage such a large and protracted event. These fire services lack the ability to control and extinguish these large fires forcing departments to depend on costly external resources from Agriculture and Forestry and private contractors.

These large wildfires are major cost centres that exceed the municipality’s financial resources. This forces the municipalities into a negative situation financially and places other municipal services under pressure to adjust for these events. Cost for one of these large events can be 10 times the annual budgeted amount.

Due to the costs of calling for the assistance of provincial resources, the required resources and expertise is often delayed. This delay contributes in the spread of fires that could easily be contained if the proper resources and expertise were on the scene. This delay, and the subsequent increase in the size of the fire, results in more expenses, more damages and more provincial resources being required to extinguish the fire.

The cost of utilizing these resources is a major factor in not utilizing the resources and expertise available. The Provincial Government has access to both the resources and expertise to assist in the control and extinguishment of wildland fires. These resources and expertise are paid for by Albertans and should benefit all Albertans. By charging these costs directly to municipalities outside of the Forest Protection Area, the government is putting the safety of Albertans at undue risk.

RMA Background:

9-14F: Fire Department Response to Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Calls

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request that Alberta Health Services (AHS) provide compensation to municipalities when fire departments are dispatched to respond to emergency calls by the Emergency Medical System 911 dispatcher;

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that an independent review of Alberta 911 procedures takes place to ensure the 911 system is operating efficiently between police, fire, and emergency medical services.

DEVELOPMENTS: The government response provides no indication that compensation will be provided to municipalities when fire departments are dispatched to respond to emergency calls by the Emergency Medical System 911 dispatcher. Therefore, this resolution has a status of Intent Not Met. The AAMDC will continue to advocate for an independent review of Alberta’s 911 system.

Government Response:

Agriculture and Forestry:  There are two programs available to municipalities outside the Forest Protection Area (FPA) to assist with wildfire suppression costs incurred on public and private land.

  • Program 1: The Municipal Wildfire Assistance Program is administered by Alberta Municipal Affairs (MA) to provide financial support to municipalities for extraordinary wildfire suppression costs. This program may reimburse municipalities up to 75 per cent of their total wildfire suppression costs incurred on occupied public land and freehold/private land.
  • Program 2: Through Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF), municipalities can apply to the Minister for reimbursement of 100 per cent of their wildfire suppression costs incurred on unoccupied public land.

Section 8(1) of the Forest and Prairie Protection Act states that the Minister may reimburse a municipality for these costs. The Minister is not obligated to reimburse a municipality.

AF has entered into Mutual Aid Resource Sharing Agreements with many municipalities throughout Alberta. These agreements confirm roles and responsibilities for wildfire management inside and outside the FPA, as well as outline fees for service for the agencies to support each other with wildfire suppression, on a full cost recovery basis.

It is standard practice for AF to invoice municipalities for wildfire suppression costs incurred when assisting them outside the FPA. It is standard practice for AF to pay municipalities for their costs assisting the department with wildfire suppression activities inside the FPA.

MA and AF continue to work with municipalities to support wildfire management initiatives outside the FPA.

Treasury Board and Finance: Alberta Treasury Board and Finance has no comments beyond those provided by AF.

Development:

The Government response highlights two important programs that municipalities have outside of the Fire Protection Area (FPA) but does indicate that the Minister is not obligated to reimburse costs to municipalities when they incur firefighting related costs from wildfires. Though Mutual Aid Resource Sharing Agreements may be widespread and the government response indicated that it is standard practice for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry to reimburse for wildfire suppression costs outside the FPA, AAMDC staff have interpreted the intent of the resolution to guarantee that the Government of Alberta enter into mutual aid agreements with municipalities to ensure all costs are properly reimbursed. Though there are programs to support the costs associated with wildfire suppression, the government response does not meet this intent and therefore, this resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met.

Provincial Ministries:
Agriculture and Forestry,
Treasury Board and Finance
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