Firefighter resources spark debate
A dispute is smouldering at the Vernon fire hall.
The Vernon Professional Firefighters Association insists staff and the public are at risk because of insufficient resources, while the city is adamant manpower is adequately provided for emergencies.
“Public safety is a priority and should be a priority above everything else,” said Brent Bond, VPFA president.
On Saturday, two firefighters were the initial response to a residential blaze on 35th Street while the other two personnel on duty were out of the hall and getting a truck fuelled.
Once at the fire, the two firefighters got help from residents, primarily for handling hoses.
“If there had been someone in the building, we couldn’t have entered for a rescue,” said Bond.
WorkSafeBC rules require four firefighters to be present before a structure is entered.
Fire chief Keith Green defends the department’s response to the fire Saturday.
“Six firefighters were there within a reasonable period of time,” he said of the four on duty and volunteer crew called in to assist.
“Had they all been in the station at the same time, they would have all been on the engine but there were circumstances (two getting a truck fuelled).”
Green also says it’s not uncommon for firefighters to turn to residents for help.
“I’ve had the public help pull a hose before.”
But Bond says the use of residents unacceptable.
“We appreciate the public’s support but we don’t want them exposed to smoke and anything (injuries) can happen with a hose,” said Bond.
There are times where the four firefighters on duty must be split up when a first medical responders call comes in or other duties arise.
“In a perfect world, we would have a rescue (crew) go out for a medical case and four would be on an engine for a fire but you have to operate within the resources allocated to your budget,” said Green.
“I’d love to have more resources but council decides what each division receives.”
The union contends city politicians have created the situation.
“Council has put the chief in a bad position where he had to split up a properly staffed engine,” said Bond, adding that the union wants the four-person engine restored.
“Council must make a decision to free up resources for the department. We will continue with our regular lobby with mayor and council.”
Coun. Juliette Cunningham, though, says council has provided support.
“We haven’t reduced the budget for fire services,” she said.
“The budget from 2012 to 2014 has gone from $4.6 to $4.8 million for that department and there’s been no decrease in that department.”