Rosters at volunteer fire halls around Quesnel have been reduced due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) shared the number of active members of each of the 15 fire halls in their jurisdiction.
Barlow Creek went from 18 members to 16 members after the mandate. Ten Mile went from 18 to 14 and West Fraser went from 19 to 14.
The biggest drop across all of the CRD was in Kersley, where only 11 members remain after the mandate. Before the mandate, the hall boasted 36 members, according to the district’s numbers.
The CRD noted in the release that numbers included honourary and non-active members, and were subject to change.
Bouchie Lake’s hall remains at 21 members, before and after the mandate. Quesnel Fire Chief Ron Richert also reported the city department is entirely vaccinated at a city council meeting on Jan. 18.
Across all CRD volunteer departments, membership dropped from 374 to 285, but the CRD notes all halls are ready for emergency call-outs.
“The announcement of a vaccine requirement for CRD volunteer firefighters was met with broad acceptance across the region and vocal opposition in some communities — as some members chose not to disclose their vaccination status,” the release from the CRD reads.
“We understand and respect their decision and thank all volunteer firefighters, regardless of their vaccination status, for the important work they do.”
In an open letter sent to the CRD, members of the Kersley Hall say the mandate was implemented with little to no consultation, and it could take months to replace experienced volunteers.
“We recognize members of our community are stepping forward on word of the closure, and we appreciate that,” their letter reads.
“With the depleted numbers we feel that there will be cases where we may not be able to respond. We also recognize a lot of criticism from the community as well. At the end of the day, we firefighters acknowledge that the vaccination choice is with the individual and not the collective.”
The open letter says the CRD was a no-show at a planned meeting on Jan. 5 to discuss the mandate.
“When we sent questions to the CRD there were no answers, only copy and paste email replies of the mandate assuring us that this was in our best interest,” the letter reads.
“We feel there was no formal contingency plan in case fire halls dropped below safe levels of membership.”
Kersley Fire Chief Eric Smith says Quesnel firefighters are helping to cover the area because they are so short-staffed.
“We are severely impacted,” Smith says.
“(Current membership) is not viable at all… If something happens, we call (Quesnel) right away.”
Smith hopes Kersley will be able to get to 15 members to reach “above underwriter status” and provide better coverage across the area and meet insurance requirements.
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