Feds cut funds to Vancouver urban search and rescue team
Vancouver's fire chief was caught off guard this week when he learned that the federal government had cut funding to the city's urban search and rescue team, a crucial resource in case "the big one" hits.
Chief John McKearney said he learned of the cut in an April 13 memo, which said that approximately $2 million in annual operational funding for a total of five teams across the country was being slashed at the end of the fiscal year. He said that he hopes to convince the Conservatives that they're making a mistake.
"From our perspective, we need to demonstrate to the federal government just how valuable this is times, five across the country -- though I respect that they have a tough job to do with their budget," McKearney told CTV News.
He said the Vancouver team will be essential if and when an earthquake hits the Lower Mainland. The squad is trained to perform rescues from collapsed buildings and has water filtration systems that could provide 25,000 litres per day to a quake-struck city.
The team of firefighters, police officers, city engineers, paramedics and parks employees has been tested during floods in Winnipeg, and members also travelled down to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"The advantage of a national team is if [a disaster] happens here, in our backyard, we'll be absolutely consumed in our primary responsibilities, and teams from Alberta or Manitoba or Toronto or Halifax, would then be invited to come and help us," McKearney said.
He added that the government's timing on its decision is unfortunate, because the team is in the process of replacing some of its aging equipment.
Both the province and the City of Vancouver also kick in funds for the rescue team, but McKearney said that Ottawa's contribution is absolutely necessary.
"We'll have to look everywhere to keep this buoyant. This is a very important resource for all of us," he said.
He added that he will be teleconferencing with members of the other national teams in two weeks to discuss how exactly the cuts will impact operations.
James Moore, B.C.'s senior Conservative MP, told reporters Friday that he doesn't believe the funding cut will put the public at risk.
"Before you pave an inch of road, before you build a hospital, before you deliver a piece of mail, the first obligation of the state is to protect citizens from that which would harm them," he said.
"There are no reductions at all that our government has put in place that will impact the quality of public safety and services."
B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond said that while she was somewhat surprised by Ottawa's decision, she's glad there's still time for negotiations.
"The services remain in place for the next year, so that gives us some time to actually work with our federal counterparts to have a conversation," she said.