Firefighting resources challenged

Vernon firefighters are ringing alarm bells over what they believe are critical safety concerns.

The Vernon Professional Firefighters Association is accusing the city of not providing sufficient staffing, particularly when it comes to initial responses to fires such as the recent Arbor Lee apartment building blaze.

“It’s good to get resources from outside of the city, but by the time they get there, it’s too late,” said Brent Bond, union president.

During the Arbor Lee fire July 10, Coldstream and BX supplied firefighters to sustain Vernon’s operations.

Bond says the city has four or five full-time career firefighters that respond initially to call-outs depending on illness or holidays, but if a backup crew has not arrived within 10 minutes, that first crew must withdraw from a structure based on Worksafe rules.

“The problem is the initial attack and we need it right now so we can respond and keep it (fire) small,” he said.

Vernon currently has career firefighters stationed at one of its three halls while Bond says Penticton and West Kelowna have two halls staffed, which allows those departments to provide a quicker response.

“The city needs to prioritize emergency services above all else,” he said.

Bond understands that administration may be looking at staffing levels.

“If the plan calls for more resources, it needs to be supported by mayor and council,” he said, adding that at a minimum, there should be eight additional career firefighters hired over four years.

“Ideally, we would be able to hire 10 right now but we need a plan so it’s affordable for taxpayers.”

There are presently 24 career firefighters.

The City of Vernon indicates that it has a department with 29 career firefighters and 29 paid-per-call firefighters (volunteers).

“We often respond with the first engine with four to six firefighters. Once we have assessed the incident, we bring in backup either through call in of additional career firefighters, call in and mobilization of pay-for-call firefighters, and if necessary, we draw on the mutual aid agreement,” said David Lind, interim fire chief.

“Every fire service struggles to balance the available resources to provide consistent and predictable service delivery throughout their communities. It’s essential that fire services build agility into their organizations. This means that responders have the ability to adjust their approach to an emergency event in consideration of the resources available at the time. The mutual aid agreement is intended to support all of the parties to the agreement when they are in need of additional resources.”

Lind says the department is continuously monitoring and seeking opportunities to improve service delivery.

“Over the next months, a forward-looking strategic plan for the next five to eight years will be presented to council,” he said.

“At this point of that process, we are gathering information from all of the stakeholders, including mayor and council, city administration, the public, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Vernon Volunteer Firefighters Association, other protective service providers and partners in the mutual aid agreement. The focus of the strategic plan is providing effective services to the public throughout the City of Vernon.”