Fire halls governed by the region are about to officially go dry.
The Regional-District Okanagan-Similkameen board voted to disallow the sale, storage or consumption of alcohol at regional fire halls except for special occasions, which would require a permit.
“We’re past the stage where we can allow our employees to break the law,” Bill Newell, chief administrative officer said during last week’s meeting.
The only director to vote against the motion was Roger Mayer, alternate director for Area G. The remaining 17 board members all voted in favour.
Mayer said he wasn’t necessarily against the move but he would have liked to see more consultation with the fire departments.
“I think the members of the fire departments are very responsible. Without their input it’s a one size fits all approach. In Keremeos we’re already struggling with membership and I think this might have a further impact on it,” he said following the meeting.
Mayer was assured during the meeting that fire chiefs recently had a chance to provide input on the issue during a joint-chief meeting.
The historically contentious issue was last brought up at RDOS in 2011 when staff sought legal advice about allowing fire departments to have and consume alcohol on their premises. At that time the staff recommendation to prohibit alcohol was voted down.
Over the years, even prior to 2011, several volunteer fire departments have chosen individually to remove alcohol from their premises including Naramata, Willowbrook, and Tulameen Fire Departments.
The only fire departments still allowing alcohol on-site are Keremeos, Anarchist Mountain, Kaleden and Okanagan Falls.
Karla Kozakevich, director for Area E, said the no alcohol rule at the fire hall was implemented before her time but that membership has adapted over the years.
“We need to be responsible (as a board) and if that deters people from joining the fire department then too bad,” she said.
Andrew Jakubeit, mayor of Penticton, said the city’s fire department, not governed under the RDOS, also has a zero alcohol on-site regulation for liability issues.
“They go to a restaurant or a pub… they certainly can do it, just not on our property,” he said.
Tom Siddon, Area D director, questioned why alcohol would be allowed on premise even with a proper permit from both the RDOS and the liquor board.
Newell explained that departments often have fundraisers or social events at the hall, or are in some of the smaller communities considered the community hall and that a total ban would have a social aspect on the community.
The RDOS board will hold a final vote on the matter at its June 16 board meeting.