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Premier pledges more support for volunteer firefighters, search and rescue teams

Premier Tim Houston and John Lohr, Nova Scotia's minister responsible for emergency management, make a funding announcement at the Canning Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Premier Tim Houston and John Lohr, Nova Scotia's minister responsible for emergency management, make a funding announcement at the Canning Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says plans are in the works to cover the cost of mileage for volunteer firefighters and ground search and rescue crews who leave their home communities to respond to an emergency.

"When we ask Nova Scotians who are volunteers to step up to support other Nova Scotians and we ask them to cross a county line or go to another catchment areas to do that, we should be supporting them as much as we can," Houston told reporters during an announcement in Canning, N.S.

The premier and John Lohr, the province's minister responsible for emergency management, were at the local fire department on Tuesday to announce the annual round of emergency service provider grants.

Eighty organizations are getting a total of almost $1.5 million to help cover the cost of equipment. Organizations can apply every three years and the program provides up to 75 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum of $20,000.

Premier Tim Houston speaks with emergency management minister John Lohr, Ashley Perry of Valley Search and Rescue and Canning Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeff Skaling during a funding announcement on Tuesday.
Premier Tim Houston speaks with emergency management minister John Lohr, Ashley Perry of Valley Search and Rescue and Canning Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeff Skaling during a funding announcement on Tuesday.

Premier Tim Houston speaks with emergency management minister John Lohr, Ashley Perry of Valley Search and Rescue and Canning Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeff Skaling during a funding announcement on Tuesday. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Ashley Perry, president of Valley Search and Rescue, said the $20,000 his group is receiving this year will go toward weatherproof outerwear and waterproof jackets. Having the equipment will mean volunteers won't be out of pocket and will have consistent gear when they respond to an emergency, he said.

"What the grant does for us is allows us to purchase equipment that, quite possibly, we might otherwise not have been able to afford."

Although the budget for the grant is $1 million each year and each year the government goes over budget responding to demand, Houston said officials are looking at other ways to help organizations ensure they have what they need when duty calls. If the past year of wildfires and floods has proved anything, said Houston, the need for emergency response services will likely increase.

To that end, the province is looking for a mechanism to help cover the costs ground search and rescue teams incur when they move their gear outside their local area to respond to an emergency. Talks are also happening to make sure that within a given mutual aid area there is equipment such as boats and off-highway vehicles available, said Houston.

Lohr, who talked about the efforts of local emergency volunteers to help his own family through the years during difficult times such the death of his son nine years ago and a barn fire at their family farm, said he was reminded of that commitment this summer as volunteers searched for four people lost during floods in the West Hants area.

"I could not help but remember the sacrifice and efforts of so many as I listened to the acts of heroism and personal sacrifice in the name of community and family."

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