Firefighters drop challenge

Twenty volunteers of the Okanagan Landing department will retire Feb. 1

The battle  is over for Okanagan Landing firefighters.

The Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association says it will no longer challenge the City of Vernon cancelling a service contract and 20 members will retire Feb. 1.

“The mayor has made it clear that they won’t meet with us or the public on this. We are facing the reality that we won’t have a contract,” said Todd Montgomery, OKLVFA president.

“There’s a lot of anger over the city decision and a lot of sad hearts that the community there will disappear.”

The Landing fire hall was formed in 1975 and it has provided firefighting response under contract since the area was annexed into Vernon in 1993.

However, last summer, city council decided to not renew the contract and to invite the Landing volunteers to join a single command structure based out of the Vernon fire hall.

Members of the OKLVFA lobbied council to reconsider its decision.

“The city will see overtime costs increase and the need for paid staff will increase,” said Montgomery.

“The city model doesn’t support volunteers. City volunteers strictly support the paid (unionized) members. There will be lower service for a higher cost.”

In terms of the fire boat, which the association owns, the association may partner with Search and Rescue or contract it out.

The city says it has been contacted by 12 Landing firefighters willing to join the new service model.

“We’re working with the members who have expressed interest in coming over,” said Keith Green, Vernon fire chief.

The city says the contract with the OKLVFA was not renewed as a way of standardizing training and creating efficiencies through a single command structure for both fire halls.

“Our priority is to serve our customers,” said Green.

“Having everyone on the same team is important. Two separate organizations is not the best model for our community.”

Mayor Rob Sawatzky insists the Landing volunteers’ concerns were not ignored but legally the city could not discuss the matter in a public venue.

“They were in-camera issues and input from the public could not affect those decisions,” he said.

Current and past members of the Okanagan Landing Fire Department will meet for a final photo Jan. 27 at the fire hall.