Out of seven rural fire departments in the RDOS, at least one has already faced dissension over a no alcohol policy.
Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen director Tom Chapman said five volunteer firefighters from the Naramata fire hall have taken temporary leave to show their distaste for a policy implemented over a month ago that forbids alcohol consumption at the hall.
“Which has of course somewhat blown up in our face because they are saying why are we being singled out,” said Chapman. “There is a group of five individuals that have left based on that fact. They are all responsible individuals, they just don’t want to see Naramata singled out. They want a region-wide policy and I completely support them on that, as well as that they want to know they haven’t been singled out as having been a problem. They are a great group of people.”
On Thursday, the RDOS board voted against adopting a policy prohibiting alcohol storage and consumption on RDOS property except under special permit. Instead, the regional district community services department is requesting the region’s fire departments bring forward an alcohol consumption policy for the board to consider that shows safety as a primary concern and saves the regional district from liability. There are seven departments this policy would effect in the regional district: Naramata, Kaleden, Okanagan Falls, Anarchist, Willowbrook, Keremeos and Tulameen.
Area C director Allan Patton said Willowbrook, in rural Oliver, was dead set against the prohibition. He relayed their issues including being a long distance from a licensed pub.
Oliver Mayor Patrick Hampson suggested a policy used in Squamish be investigated. He said their fire department has a society renting out part of the fire department facility, leaving any liability issues in the society’s lap.
About 25 years ago the no alcohol policy began trending with career fire departments but, according to RDOS emergency services supervisor Dale Kronebusch, volunteer departments have been slow to embrace that. Legal counsel for the RDOS suggested enhanced scrutiny of first responders and any suggestion of negligence at an incident would only be complicated if there was a suggestion of alcohol use by members.
“A lot of these people are volunteers, and when you take a look at it, unfortunately, with our litigious society today that is causing some of the issues,” said RDOS chair and Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton.
It is expected that each of the fire departments will come back to the regional district with their own policy proposal which would have to go before the board to be approved.
The City of Penticton has an alcohol policy already in place, as does Summerland, which outlawed alcohol in the fire hall in the late 1990s.