While the federal government will still pick up the tab for recently purchased radio equipment, the cost of future fire department equipment upgrades may fall increasingly on Muskoka Lakes taxpayers with the cancellation of a national emergency preparedness fund.
The Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP) was nixed by the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill that was passed this summer. While day-to-day operations in the Muskoka Lakes Fire Department are funded from township coffers, fire chief Richard Hayes said the grant allows fire departments to make upgrades that further improve the quality of service.
“Where these grants come in are to enable us to go one step further, to do something a little different or a little bit better,” he said.
Most recently, in November 2011, the Muskoka Lakes department used the grant to finance nearly half of the cost of new radio apparatus. The purchase was priced at $20,000 in total.
Even though the JEPP program has been cancelled, Hayes said the federal government is still sending a cheque in the mail for the federal government’s share of that purchase.
However, the department won’t be able to draw on the same fund going forward if future upgrades are desired. For rural fire departments, it means that equipment upgrades may take longer to fully achieve. Without funds from upper-level governments, it may mean that the full cost would have to be absorbed at the municipal level.
“Let’s take the portable radios. We got 20 portable radios. If this grant had been rejected, I would have still gone out and bought eight or nine radios, but because we got the grant, I was able to get 20 radios,” said Hayes. “Now that the grant is gone, it doesn’t stop me from going forward in the future with purchasing more radios, it’s just that I can’t do it as quickly, it takes longer.”
Since its inception in 1980, JEPP has provided over $170 million in emergency services funding across the country. Funding grants have been given to emergency services organizations for items ranging from generators to firefighting vehicles.
Hayes said the Muskoka Lakes Fire Department has applied to the fund before. In 2010, it received new generators thanks to the fund. Hayes said he had also used the fund during his previous posting in Tillsonburg.
“In the six years I was there, I think it was four out of the six that we made an application, if I remember correctly,” he said.
In the place of JEPP, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has indicated the federal government is looking to develop a long-term national disaster mitigation program, with the aim of mitigating the impact of national disasters and reducing associated costs.