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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Vancouver Fire Department suffer the worst of salt crisis

The salt fiasco is an issue of belonging; the people jostling to get to the salt do not see themselves as neighbours, writes Trish Kelly.

An icy street in Vancouver on Thursday Jan. 5, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

An icy street in Vancouver on Thursday Jan. 5, 2017.

Last week, in the midst of a cold snap that most of Canada rightfully scoffs at, Vancouver residents nearly rioted over road salt. The city announced residents could pick up a bucket’s worth from firehalls around town, and the scene turned so ugly, police were called.

I could say that I’ve dug deep into my well of empathy to discover the reasons people shoved each other and got in the way of fire trucks, just to get a bucket of salt, but as good as my imagination and compassion can be, I cannot sympathize with such poor citizenship.

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My empathy goes to the firefighters who drew the short straw in the municipal staff lottery, getting tasked with this duty, which has nothing to do with fighting fires or acting as first responders.  On top of the exhausting task of making it first to the scene of countless medical emergencies, including car accidents and an avalanche of fentanyl overdoses, now they are forced to deal with frantic greed inspired by road salt.

Imagine, as a kid, dreaming of becoming a firefighter, then as an adult, going through grueling physical training to reach the fitness level of a top athlete, taking numerous training courses, getting your air brakes license, and psyching yourself up for a type of community service that requires risking your life on a regular basis, before you can even apply for the job. One chilly January morning, you head to work to find that Vancouver residents are making a fight club out of your parking lot, in anticipation of a delivery of salt they will toss on their sidewalks.

I can imagine the diminishment of morale for the firefighters who had to worry if the next call to attend a fentanyl overdose would have to go unanswered because the unruly salt seekers didn’t notice they were blocking access to emergency vehicles.

How did the city’s firehalls get stuck with the job of doling out road salt, anyway? Why didn’t the park board’s 24 community centres pick up this task? Most have substantial parking lots and already are places where residents frequent and feel a sense of ownership and belonging.

I think the salt fiasco comes down to an issue of belonging; the people jostling to get to the salt before their neighbours do not see themselves as citizens, or neighbours. They see themselves as the last man standing, or invisible to their fellow citizens.

We are in this city together and when one of us devolves to selfish idiot, we are all diminished.

What you do matters. Everyday. When you choose to meet your neighbours eye, say thank you or offer help, you make the city we live in.

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. She’d like to thank the VFD for all they do.

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