Recent History 2000-2002
Aug. 25, 2000
By Rick Davison, Daily News Staff
Municipal politicians, including Dawson Creek Mayor Blair Lekstrom, are fuming at the federal government’s plans to tighten up fire-rescue regulations at local airports.
Most galling to Lekstrom is the feds’ requirement that smaller airports reinstate fire crews after the communities took over the facilities with the understanding that on-site fire-rescue crews were no longer needed.
The plan amounts to nothing less than changing the rules after the game has already started.
“What they did in essence was bargain in bad faith. When we were negotiating with them, one of the real selling points that enabled us to take over our airport was downsizing the fire department out there,” said Lekstrom. “To come back after they have got everybody to take their airports over and say ‘Oh, we are reimplementing it’, really has nothing to do with safety. It was, I think, a very poor tactic in negotiating and negotiating in bad faith like I have never seen before in my life.”
Six years ago the federal government offered its smaller airports to municipalities across Canada. During those discussions the feds agreed to do away the rules that required firefighters stationed at the local airport. That cut out close to $300,000 in operating expenses so city officials decided operating the airport on their own would be financially viable.
“That made it very attractive in the sense that we thought we can do this and we can make it viable, because if we didn’t take it over and they were getting out of it, it would mean the airport would shut down.”
So Dawson Creek took over the airport and moved the facility’s firefighting vehicle to the local firehall, something the feds agreed was fine since the airport fell within municipal boundaries.
“We continued to still be able to provide fire-crash rescue through our fire department here, we still have the truck and our airport is within the municipal boundaries.”
Presently, Dawson Creek’s airport is not at the stage where it would be required to station a manned truck there. But if it plans to increase the number of flights in and out or the size of aircraft landing it would then need to move the truck back out to the airport along with firefighters to staff it.
However, Dawson Creek will be required to have someone trained in crash-rescue on site for every commercial take-off and landing.
Lekstrom does not see this as a safety issue.
“If it was going to enhance the safety of the fly-in public it wouldn’t matter who was going to pay for it I think we would all be behind this initiative,” added Lekstrom. “But the issue here really isn’t safety it’s about political gain for some individual down in Ottawa.”
Municipal politicians from throughout northern Alberta and British Columbia met Prince George-Peace River MP Jay Hill at the Dawson Creek airport Tuesday to discuss the issue.
“Everybody feels the same. This regulation makes no sense. It has nothing to do with safety and the only way I think we will be able to fight this is by way of saying we will stand together and you can pull 107 certifications from these airports if you wish. I don’t think they will because the economic backbone of the country would fall apart,” Lekstrom said.