Okanagan Landing firefighters have been invited to join the Vernon Volunteer Firefighters Association

Okanagan Landing firefighters have been invited to join the Vernon Volunteer Firefighters Association

Contract axe frustrates Landing firefighters

Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association frustrated with Vernon decision to cut contract

The Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association wants a meeting.

The association has requested a face-to-face meeting with City of Vernon administrator Will Pearce and Vernon Fire Rescue Services chief Keith Green to discuss the city’s decision not to renew its contract with the Landing association when it expires at the end of January 2013.

“The news raised a lot of questions and a lot of unknowns,” said Todd Montgomery, president of the Okanagan Landing association. “They’ve proposed a model for us if we join the VVFA (Vernon Volunteer Firefighters Association), and we’ve all been invited to do so.

“But we can’t continue as volunteers under the Okanagan Landing association because we no longer have the contract.”

It was during an in-camera meeting in July that Vernon city council authorized Pearce to notify the Landing that the city would not be renewing the contract.

In a press release issued by the city, council said its primary reason for cancelling the contract was “to bring together all volunteer and career firefighters into one cohesive firefighting team.”

The cancelling of the contract would mean a reduction in overall costs, and the city said it would provide skilled, well-trained firefighters to deliver the best emergency response to all Vernon residents.

Montgomery said the city has asked the Landing association to continue on with its community activities, including the popular Okanagan Landing Regatta, held in July, and to continue with the number of charitable donations it makes per year.

“I don’t know how that’s going to continue when our members are asked to pay into one association, the VVFA, as well as contribute to our association,” he said.

Fire suppression service with the Landing has been contracted by the city since 1993, when a boundary extension brought Okanagan Landing into the city limits.

Okanagan Landing volunteer firefighters have been helping the city since its inception in 1975.

The cancelling of the contract has left the 30-member Okanagan Landing members feeling upset.

“They’re confused, there’s a lot of questions, and there’s frustration,” said Montgomery. “There are a whole lot of questions about what the new model will look like. Members will make decisions both on individual levels and as an association as to how we move forward.”

Vernon Fire Rescue Services chief Keith Green understands the Landing’s reactions and concerns, and has agreed to a meeting Tuesday with Pearce and the Okanagan Landing association.

“We figured it would be a process and meet with them a number of times to alleviate some of their concerns, and we’ve committed to do that,” said Green.

Fire services, said the chief, is one of the most difficult organizations to propose changes for due to all the tradition and history that goes with it.

The Vernon Fire Department was founded in 1891.

“They (Landing) have a fear of their loss of autonomy and their service to that particular area,” said Green. “We’ve said that if they’re with the VVFA, they’ll be given a chance to respond out of that (Okanagan Landing) station exclusively. We’re committed to doing that.”

Council has directed that the Landing and soon-to-be Predator Ridge fire halls will stay strictly volunteer until council decides otherwise.