Firefighters battle flames off their hose while trying to douse a grass fire at The Rise

Firefighters battle flames off their hose while trying to douse a grass fire at The Rise

Fire debate draws in politicians

City councillors divided over Okanagan Landing Firefighters' claims that callout times are putting public safety at risk

A veteran politician says allegations levelled against the Vernon Fire Department can’t be ignored.

Members of the Okanagan Landing Fire Department claim they were sidelined during the Aug. 14 grass fire at The Rise because a request for help from the Vernon hall was delayed.

“Someone has to respond to this,” said Coun. Patrick Nicol.

Nicol questions why Landing volunteers weren’t immediately paged to the fire in their traditional coverage area.

“They know that area six ways to Sunday.”

Coun. Juliette Cunningham defends the actions of the Vernon department, which responded to the fire first.

“Our chief does not know the level of training each volunteer at the Landing hall has,” she said.

“From what I witnessed, I know residents of The Rise believe the whole situation was handled well.”

A majority of the Landing’s 28 volunteer members say they will resign Jan. 31 instead of joining a single command structure with the Vernon hall. City council recently decided not to renew a service contract with the Landing firefighters association.

“My sense is they want to be respected for capable and dedicated service,” said Nicol, who was one of three councillors to oppose scrapping the contract.

“Sometimes when you back people into a corner, they stand on principle and I respect people who stand on principle.”

City officials stand by the new model and say public safety is paramount.

“The Rise grass fire, and the subsequent fire one week later near the Greater Vernon landfill, are both excellent examples of multi-agency response to major incidents,” said Keith Green, Vernon fire chief.

“Mobilizing resources quickly and effectively, responding under a single incident command structure, mitigating loss, and ensuring public and firefighter safety are the priorities for delivery of the fire service.”

Cunningham defends voting for the new command model.

“I have to make decisions based on practical issues. Moving forward with one chief makes sense,” she said.

“There will be an opportunity for consistent training throughout the service, which includes the Landing.”

Cunningham denies the model will lead to paid firefighters being stationed in the Landing.

“This council today is committed to volunteers.”

Cunningham hopes Landing volunteers will reconsider their resignations, but if they do leave, she isn’t concerned about a lack of resources.

“If we have to recruit new volunteers, we will do that. We also have volunteers with the main hall,” she said.

A contingency plan based on numerous resignations will be presented to council Sept. 10.