A Conair airtanker helps battle a wildfire south of Penticton last summer. The Abbosford-based company currently has 26 of its planes involved in the wildfire situation across B.C.                                (Mark Brett/Black Press)

A Conair airtanker helps battle a wildfire south of Penticton last summer. The Abbosford-based company currently has 26 of its planes involved in the wildfire situation across B.C. (Mark Brett/Black Press)

Penticton Fire looking at more wildfire equipment

In the budget, a large ATV for wildland deployment and a trailer with a massive sprinkler system

Penticton’s fire department has been given a tentative nod on its proposal for a pair of new, major pieces of equipment, to help combat potential wildfires in the area.

In the Penticton Fire Rescue budget proposal Wednesday morning, one request for about $148,000 would add to the department’s garage of emergency response vehicles.

The bulk of that money would be going toward two vehicles — a utility vehicle, which Fire Chief Larry Watkinson compared to a four-seat quad, which can drive both on the roads, but also on trails and up, into wildland interface areas.

Related: 2017 the worst wildfire season in B.C.

“(We can) actually get into the wildland-urban interface quickly, so we can get to small hectare-size fire, manage it with the four people with a rapid deployment and get to the fire and extinguish it before it grows big,” Watkinson said.

“So that piece of equipment is a fairly significant piece.”

The other major piece of equipment that the $148,000 would buy is a structure protection unit (SPU), a portable trailer with water equipment.

“That, basically, will protect upwards of 50 homes in a community that has a significant wildfire coming in, and what we do is set up sprinkler systems,” Watkinson said.

“For example, the West Bench fire that we had last year, if this fire was coming from Summerland to the south along the mountainside, and we had hours to develop and set up this structure protection unit, we could have set up sprinklers in and around homes using water from our hydrants or from bladders.”

Related: Firefighters battling fire on West Bench

Those sprinkler systems would raise the humidity in the area, as well as keeping the homes wet, with the intention of keeping the fire from spreading into the community.

The province does have a stock of the SPUs, which are available to the fire department, but in a fire season like this past summer, Watkinson said those get snatched up quickly.

“What I’m proposing to this council and this city is that we develop our own SPU so we have a fighting chance to start doing some protection while we’re asking for some of those resources from the province,” Watkinson said.

Related: Kaleden resident in ‘utter shock’ at losing home in wildfire

Watkinson said he is also looking to replace some of the city’s fire pumps that failed in the city this year.

“For example, I had to borrow one from my previous employment, from my other fire department, because I couldn’t even buy one this year because they just weren’t available,” he said. “So we were beg, borrowing and pleading for support and equipment this year.”

Coun. Judy Sentes said she applauds Watkinson’s initiative on the projects, referring to major wildfire seasons as “the new norm.” She also asked about the fire department’s potential water shuttle service for some of the interface communities.

Related: Shuttling water an alternative to hydrant

“We have been working on the alternative water supply. It’s quite a long process. We’re going through the dry runs, now, so we’re doing mathematical calculations on areas that we can achieve these new basic standard rates for insurance purposes,” Watkinson said.

“The protection side of things certainly do increase by adding another water truck to our fleet. The difficulty we have is that we really don’t have any space for that piece of apparatus.”

Watkinson said he will be bringing a report to council in early 2018 on whether that water shuttle program is viable for the city.



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