After unexpectedly losing fire protection services last summer, many Lower Nicola area residents found themselves with increased insurance premiums and a lack of basic exterior structural protection during a hot and dry summer, until the City of Merritt agreed to provide fire protection services to 482 addresses in the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD). 

At their recent regular meeting, Merritt City Council voted unanimously to extend that agreement under new terms after a TNRD Fire Services Review showed that the City of Merritt was being underfunded compared to other jurisdictions in the TNRD. The City will now receive a total sum of $270,000 from the regional district for their one-year agreement, compared to the previous $81,753 and additional monthly rate of $12,050 after Council moved to add Lower Nicola to the agreement at the end of June. Merritt’s Fire Chief told council the City looks to further negotiate for a potential multi-year agreement down the road. 

“Obviously, time was of the essence last year with respect to providing the residents of Lower Nicola a level of fire suppression services,” said Chief David Tomkinson to council at their February 14th regular meeting.

“As we move this year, we are committed to negotiating further with the regional district with respect to the terms and the dollar value of future fire suppression agreements.”

The City of Merritt will now continue to provide select addresses in TNRD Electoral Areas ‘M’ and ‘N,’ including the 482 addresses in the Lower Nicola area, with exterior fire protection services until December 21, 2023. Tomkinson indicated to Council that a multi-year deal could be reached at that point. His report also noted that updated contract language and indemnification protects the City, with the new pricing model more equally sharing the cost of operating the Merritt Fire Rescue Department (MFRD). 

The City’s total annual revenue from their Fire Service Agreement in 2022 was $154,053, meaning the new agreement saw a 57 percent increase in total fees collected. Tomkinson’s report noted that MFRD crews only respond to an average of 15 fire emergencies per year in the established service area. The suppression of forest fires and response to medical incidents are excluded from the City’s agreement with the TNRD. Tomkinson noted that the agreement benefits property owners in a number of ways.

“These agreements benefit the population living on rural properties adjacent to the City by offering firefighting services where the Merritt Fire Rescue Department (MFRD) provides an ‘Exterior Operations Level’ response that corresponds with the BC Structure Firefighter Minimum Training Standard, namely for the purpose of property conservation,” added Tomkinson’s report.

“Additionally, these homeowners often see significant reductions in their insurance premiums. The service is limited to residential structure fires, incipient stage wildfires, and motor vehicle fires when they threaten infrastructure.”

Council passed the new agreement unanimously, and could potentially see themselves negotiating a  multi-year agreement with the TNRD in early 2024. The regional district also recently received $270,000 from the provincial government’s Community Emergency Preparedness Fund for their regional emergency preparedness fire department training and equipment project.