Councils reject firefighter standby pay request

Having volunteer firefighters paid to be on standby over the summer months didn’t sit well with members of Armstrong and Spallumcheen councils.

Council members rejected a call for $5,500 in the proposed 2011 Armstrong Spallumcheen Joint Fire Department five-year plan that would be used as additional standby pay over the summer months.

“This is for $50 per day for five members for 10 weekends and two statutory holidays,” explained Armstrong Spallumcheen deputy fire chief Alastair Crick, who presented the budget plan at a joint Armstrong-Spallumcheen council meeting Thursday.

“The standby pay is to ensure there is a minimum number of members in the area to respond to any fire calls.”

Of concern to the fire department is the fact that many members book summer holidays, and this is a way to ensure the communities are covered in case of a fire.

Standby pay is also used by other fire departments, according to a report from fire chief Ian Cummings.

“Summer brings a high fire risk,” wrote Cummings. “With holidays and summer activities we are challenged with responding in a timely manner. We feel that having five members on standby is essential.”

Armstrong Coun. Ryan Nitchie led the opposition to the request.

“Both of my grandfathers served as firefighters and they didn’t do it to get paid, they did it for community service,” said Nitchie. “I don’t believe our guys would say they’re not going to a fire if they didn’t get paid. The guys I know on the department joined because they want to go and fight fires.”

Armstrong councillors Paul Britton and Kelly Rowe, and Spallumcheen Coun. Christine Fraser, voted in favour of the proposal.

“It’s not often I disagree with Ryan but in this case, if it means the communities are going to be protected, it’s not a lot of money they are asking for,” said Britton.

The 2011 financial plan request for the fire department comes in at $367,072, which includes a one per cent wage increase.

Firefighters are compensated if they are called out to a fire.

The department asked for more than $14,000 for its force to help with training, including adding a fourth practice per month.

“The additional practice is due to the youth of the membership and the requisite need for training,” said Crick. “The fourth practice provides the opportunity to ensure a sufficient skill level is reached by all department members.”

The fire department requested $10,000 for a hire hall expansion study. Council, however, wants to send the request to its joint committee to see if the $10,000 can be efficiently allocated for such a study.

The department has also requested $3,000 for computer software and $900 for a Blackberry for the fire chief.

Both councils will debate the requests at their next respective meetings this month.