Staffing at Vernon Fire Rescue may be reviewed at budget time, but at this point, the city’s mayor feels the department has adequate resources.
The Vernon Professional Firefighters Association has gone public with concerns that staffing is not sufficient, particularly when it comes to initial responses to fires.
“The whole reason we did this is after the Arbor Lee apartment fire (July 10), it really highlighted, we have a lack of resources on our initial attack, so we’re just hoping to bring some attention to it. I know mayor and council are going to be talking about the budget soon, and we want them to prioritize emergency services,” says Brent Bond, president of the local union.
The City says it has 29 career firefighters, and 29 paid on call volunteers.
Mayor Akbal Mund say there has been talk over the years of having the hall at Okanagan Landing staffed with career firefighters.
“It’s something we will have to look at because obviously there are major budget implications for this request,” Mund tells Kiss FM.
Mund says despite what the union says, residents are protected when it comes to fire services, with back up from surrounding areas in the mutual aid agreement.
“I believe 100 percent that right now we are not in a situation where the residents of Vernon are being short changed for fire services. That may come across by the union, but of course, that’s something easy for them to say,” says Mund.
Mund says the fire fighters union gets a 2.5 percent wage increase every year, which tops even police services, and isn’t sustainable.
“That’s something that’s always negotiated by the provincial fire fighters on behalf of all the jurisdictions, and when one municipality breaks and gives them the 2.5, any other municipality that tries, they are basically stuck with the 2.5% increase.”
Mund says it’s difficult to budget with those salaries rising by 2.5% every year.
“Municipalities eventually won’t be able to afford it, I can tell you that.”
Bond says he’s received mostly positive comments from the public since they went public with their concerns.
“Just seems like when the crime goes up, the City hires more RCMP officers, but we’re having more and larger fires, and we need more firefighters,” Bond tells Kiss FM.
Bond says four to five firefighters respond on initial attack, depending on absences.
“We’re the only department in the Okanagan that has career firefighters that only respond out of one hall,” adds Bond.
He says Penticton responds out of two halls, and same thing for West Kelowna.
Photo: Arbor Lee condo fire July 10