By Cole Parkinson
Stemming from heavy snowfall in late September 2019, a single motor vehicle crash incident was being appealed through the Municipal District of Taber for emergency response services.
On Sept. 29, 2019, Station 5 Fire Hall (Vauxhall) was called to a single-vehicle crash south of Vauxhall on Highway 36.
Upon arrival, it was discovered that a fully loaded semi had driven into the west ditch then tried to correct the action and drive out of the ditch to get back onto the highway, but was stuck which made the roadway impassable by blocking almost all of both driving lanes. Traffic had to be rerouted around the event for two hours until the tow truck could pull the truck out the ditch and back onto the road.
A delegation from NPS Transport was in council chambers and they brought forward their appeal for council decision on whether to uphold the invoice or deletion of charges during their regular meeting on Jan. 28.
“It was going into the ditch. I managed to get it back on the road but due to slippery conditions, the trailer was stuck in the top of the ditch and the (truck) was on the road straight. I called 9-1-1 to report the incident near Vauxhall and I clearly told the officer there were no injuries, I was the driver. There was no debris, the truck and trailer were fine and I clearly told them I called a tow truck from Brooks and it was on its way. I didn’t ask for any fire service response,” explained Gurpreit Singh of NPS Transport, who also pointed out to council that the company was only a single truck and had fallen on hard times recently.
While the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP detachment usually handles these types of calls, it was explained to council that due to the heavy amount of snow, RCMP was dealing with other calls and had asked for the M.D. Fire Department to attend the call.
“When they call 9-1-1, we go. The northbound highway was almost blocked off, I could barely get by in my pickup truck. With all of the snow and slush, (RCMP) had to close the road, and we did traffic control for over two hours,” stated Brian Schafer, regional fire chief. “RCMP called us out as normal and that is why they received the bill. In the original bill, we had our black engine out there as well, it didn’t do anything on scene but block the wind for us so that was deducted right off the bat. That saved $1,230 off the bill.”
It was further explained that with no file number created for the incident by the RCMP, the bill was issued directly from the M.D. instead of through Alberta Transportation and NPS Transport’s insurance.
“When the 9-1-1 call goes out that this is on the highway, we go out,” continued Schafer. “We aren’t just driving around looking for business. We were sitting at home where it is nice and warm.”
With pictures provided by Schafer for council viewing, it gave them a sense of the scene the fire department was dealing with when they got to the accident.
“It looks like your truck is halfway across the highway and I think you needed some (assistance),” said Reeve Merrill Harris. “I think the proper procedures were followed. The RCMP asked for help and Chief Schafer responded.”
One concern brought forward was penalizing a company for doing the right thing by calling 9-1-1.
“My fear here is they did the right thing by calling 9-1-1 and now it’s coming back to bite them in the ass. They would have been better not to call and that is not really the message you want to send to people,” added Coun. John Turcato.
Even with that in mind, other councillors brought up the fact the truck was across both sides of Highway 36.
Without the fire department, they pointed to the fact there could have been more crashes.
“I recognize the position that you are in, a lot of us are in hard times right now. However, I do feel there is always value having the road safe,” said Deputy Reeve Jen Crowson. “There is value in our emergency service and the RCMP made that call and they needed the highway to be safe.”
Administration added upon the point of the safety responsibilities the municipality is bound to in these situations.
“The municipality has a legal responsibility to respond when there is an emergency call. Not only just to respond but also to ensure the safety from other incidents and I think that is where some value isn’t being recognized here. There was an emergency services response with the intention of preserving safety on the highway. There could have been costs far outweighing the one we are looking at right now,” said CAO Arlos Crofts.
A motion was made to uphold the invoice and was carried 6-1 with Turcato being the lone opposing vote.