Jennifer Smith/Morning Star Flames rear up behind a firefighter on the hillside next to The Rise Tuesday afternoon.

Jennifer Smith/Morning Star Flames rear up behind a firefighter on the hillside next to The Rise Tuesday afternoon.

Debate heating up over firefighting

Okanagan Landing firefighters are walking, claiming administration model puts public in jeopardy

Okanagan Landing firefighters are walking, and they claim it’s over an administration model that puts the public in jeopardy.

A majority of the 28 members of the volunteer department say they will resign Jan. 31 instead of joining a single command structure with the Vernon hall.

“A reason noted as to why many members will not join the Vernon Volunteer Firefighters Association is they cannot support a response model that puts the public at greater risk,” states a release.

Specifically, the Landing firefighters say the Aug. 14 grass fire at The Rise could have been kept smaller if they had been involved earlier.

“After seeing the smoke, several Okanagan Landing firefighters headed to the Okanagan Landing fire station and waited 16 minutes and 58 seconds to be paged to the fire by Vernon dispatch while members of the public stopped and asked why the firefighters were not responding to the fire that spread quickly as the firefighters sat and watched,” states the release.

It goes on to say that Landing firefighters are not allowed to respond to a blaze unless their assistance is requested by Vernon, something that was automatic in previous years.

“The Rise is the most recent of a series of incidents where there has been an unnecessary delay before Okanagan Landing firefighters have been called.”

City council recently decided not to renew a fire service agreement with the Okanagan Landing Volunteers Firefighters Association. It was formed in 1975 and has provided services under contract since the Landing was annexed into Vernon in 1993.

All members of the Landing hall have been invited to join the Vernon Volunteer Firefighters Association.

“We feel council made a narrow, one-sided decision. It’s a slap in the face to us,” said Todd Montgomery, Landing association president.

City officials have stated integration of the departments is required to ensure training levels but Montgomery disagrees.

“We are trained, proficient and capable. It’s defamation of character,” he said.

Montgomery won’t say exactly how many firefighters will quit if the contract isn’t renewed by Jan. 31. But he’s left wondering how the city will handle the lack of resources.

“As a taxpayer, I’d be curious as to what the contingency plan is,” he said.

Keith Green, Vernon’s fire chief, has not seen a copy of the Landing association’s release.

“I’m not going to speak to a press release or procedural issues in the media,” he said.

However, Green defended his department’s actions during the fire at The Rise.

“Our members and those from the Landing responded as quickly as resources could be mobilized and everyone did a great job,” he said.

Green says he is not concerned about  a lack of manpower if a large number of Landing firefighters leave their positions.

“We have a contingency plan and we will brief council Sept. 10 on what the plan looks like,” he said.

“We can respond to all emergency situations without jeopardizing safety.”