Mayor Frank Leonard can’t help but be proud of a unique partnership forged between the Saanich police and fire departments.
Last Thursday the two municipal public safety agencies unveiled their new $1.17-million joint emergency command vehicle.
“We’re certain it’s the only one in B.C. in which a resource like this is shared between police and fire,” Leonard said. “During preliminary budget discussions a couple years ago, they both addressed the need for a new vehicle. Myself and council said, ‘Well this doesn’t make sense. Would you please get together?’ And this is what they came up with.”
The 40-foot-long vehicle is built on a fire truck frame – it looks like a large, white firetruck with police and fire decals – but the inside looks like a worksite, complete with eight computerized work stations, switchboards, cellular and satellite telephony systems, large television monitors and a panel that controls a panoramic camera on a 45-foot mast atop the vehicle.
“It’s like moving from one century to the next,” said fire Chief Mike Burgess, referring to the switch from the old emergency command vehicle, a 1976 school bus, to this new purpose-built apparatus. “The bus conversion was done back in (1992) when we received that donation from the school board. But the state of technology has advanced considerably in that time.”
“The technology built into the vehicle will allow police to manage everything from hostage negotiations to major crime scene containment to complex crash investigations. We can use the vehicle to monitor crowd management issues, to ensure safety at community events, or to establish a call centre, should that be required,” said Chief Const. Bob Downie.
Burgess added that the vehicle will play a key role in the event of a major emergency or disaster, including fires, hazardous material spills, significant storms and earthquakes.
The electronics in the vehicle are powered by a diesel generator that feeds off the truck’s main tank. As long as the tank is refilled, the emergency command vehicle can remain at a crime or emergency scene indefinitely.
More than half of the vehicle’s cost – $750,000 – was paid for through money collected as a result of bad driving habits. Every year the province doles out traffic fine revenues, collected from violation ticket fines, to municipalities to spend however they wish.
Leonard said Saanich receives more than $1 million annually in traffic fine revenue, most of which pays for day-to-day public safety operations. But the municipality had set aside money in recent years to be put towards the purchase of the command vehicle.
In the coming weeks, Burgess said members of the police and fire department will be trained on the new equipment.
“Saanich fire will house and maintain the vehicle, in terms of its operation. So any time this vehicle goes out, whatever agency may be using it, there will be a Saanich fire employee that’s fully trained in all aspects that will accompany the vehicle wherever it goes,” he said.
The vehicle will be available for other police and fire departments throughout the region to use.
“This is a move in the right direction in terms of our whole philosophy and having an eye on disaster preparedness and emergency management,” Burgess said. “Saanich has been very proactive, and our mayor and council have supported us in every aspect of being prepared and making the community a safer place to be. This vehicle is just one more step in that direction.”
Did you know?
The old emergency command vehicle was donated to the Salvation Army in February. The bus will be used to provide meals, clothing and services to emergency workers and community members at major events, including apartment fires and search and rescue operations.