Merritt first responders are reminding Nicola Valley residents to ensure their address signs are clearly visible from the public roadway, following a number of cases where lack of visibility slowed response time. 

Representatives of the Merritt Ambulance Station, Merritt Fire Rescue Department (MFRD), and Community Policing Office (CPO)  sat down with the Herald to talk address identification.

“I’ve been here since ‘87, so it’s something that’s kind of accumulated over the years, and I’ve always wanted to address it,” said Mae Webster, a community paramedic at Merritt’s ambulance station. “It is an issue, and it does delay our calls anywhere from two, up to 10 minutes because of the house numbers being in a place where we can see them.” 

Webster added that larger, easy to read numerals free of obstructions in a contrasting colour to the building make it easier for emergency crews to find residences when responding to calls. She noted that the issue of address identification comes up often at the ambulance station. 

“I hear the crews being really frustrated about finding addresses,” she said.

Dave Tomkinson, Merritt’s fire chief, said the city has reminded residents of address number requirements through public education efforts several times, but that the issue is still relevant. He said that while some emergency responders are local and may be able to find their way despite poorly or improperly marked addresses, some paramedics come to Merritt from other localities.

“Maybe that’s a benefit for our local RCMP and firefighters, that most of us live here, but you might have paramedic crews that are coming in from out of the city,” said Tomkinson.

Tomkinson added that the city has clearly defined bylaws dictating the requirements for address markings, which he believes are sufficient for quick identification of residences in Merritt when followed correctly.

The City of Merritt’s Fire and Safety Regulations Bylaw No. 2272, 2019, states the following under ‘Address Identification’:

10.1. All buildings or structures on any lot or parcel of land within the municipal boundaries shall be properly identified with numbers facing the city road which accesses the property, indicating their city address as designated by the City of Merritt. 

10.2. All address numbers in the City of Merritt shall be a minimum of 15cm high, with a 1 cm stroke in contrasting colours to the base colour of the building or structure. Address numbers shall not be obstructed by shrubs, trees, beams, or any other material that would impair quick and easy identification.

Webster added she saw a recommendation online to type one’s civic address number into a word processors using the specified requirements before printing and pasting it on the building. By viewing it from street, it can be determined whether the numerals should be made larger for easier identification. Illuminated and reflective numerals are preferred, but not required. 

For rural addresses near Merritt, the Thompson Nicola Regional District offers double-sided, reflective white/green, vinyl covered aluminum address signs with 4” high numerals, in compliance with Transport Association of Canada standards. They are required to be visible at night from the property’s public access road, similar to the city’s requirements.

Tomkinson noted long driveways must have them at the end of the driveway, both in and out of city limits. He added that address numerals are important for not only identifying residences, but also for wayfinding.

“We have pretty elaborate mapping in our vehicles, but it’s like any type of technology, it can fail, we can lose satellite communication, and things like that,” explained Tomkinson. “GPS can be wrong, the data that’s available and new streets that are added and things like that can make information available online unreliable.”

The MFRD’s computer aided dispatch mapping system is updated every six months, so roads and addresses added between could be missed and needed to be located physically. This issue is compounded by different anomalies with city planning and addresses, including with street direction and corner lots. 

Address identification is just as important for police, who may be responding to an area for a number of different and dynamic reasons.

“The reasons police are attending a neighbourhood can really vary, it’s a wide scope, maybe more so than other first responders, and those situations can change really quickly,” said Marlene Jones, coordinator of Merritt’s Community Policing Office. “It’s important for the safety of the first responders attending into those neighbourhoods that you do use this as a priority, and that you make sure that yours [address sign] is visible.”

Jones noted that the issue of address signs often doesn’t come up until they are needed by first responders, which could be too late.

“They may not be responding to your place, but it may be important for direction of travel or something like that, that a first responder can easily see what your address is,” she said.

Jones added that businesses also sometimes overlook the requirement of clear address markings. While some businesses have been in the same location in the city for decades, those new to the city, or first responder agencies having to call to other agencies, will want a physical address.

All three representatives agreed that the need for clearly marked addresses is key to ensure quick and accurate response by emergency services, both to businesses and to private residences.