Firefighters’ union challenges council decision

City will only use volunteer crews at the Okanagan Landing and Predator Ridge fire halls

Vernon politicians are being accused of putting residents at risk.

Council has reconfirmed the city’s previous position that only volunteer firefighters will be used at the Okanagan Landing and Predator Ridge fire halls, and staffing will remain like that at least until 2018.

“Vernon Fire Rescue has long been underfunded and this decision is simply misguided priorities,” said Brent Bond, Vernon Professional Firefighters Association president.

“When the normal level of funding fire protection is in the range of 10 per cent of a city’s budget within B.C., and Vernon continues to languish in the seven per cent range for decades, council missed an opportunity to make our community and our firefighters safer.”

Bond says the loss of property and lives is proportional to response time by firefighters.

“We know that a volunteer response is a significantly longer response than a staffed response,” he said.

“As a result, our volunteers are placed in harm’s way unnecessarily and our residents are placed at far greater risk to property and life loss unnecessarily.”

Coun. Juliette Cunningham says the issue of unionized versus volunteer firefighters arose because the current council hadn’t considered the policy since the 2014 election.

“There are three council members that were not here before so it’s important they have an opportunity to express their opinion,” she said.

Cunningham doesn’t share Bond’s concerns about safety being compromised by only using volunteer firefighters.

“It’s worked very well and I don’t see any reason as to why it wouldn’t continue to work well,” she said.

Council’s motion originally only covered 2016 but Coun. Catherine Lord moved that it be extended to include 2017 and 2018.

“For the next couple of years, the issue won’t come up again,” she said.

Mayor Akbal Mund wouldn’t speculate on whether unionized firefighters could be stationed at both halls after 2018.

“You never know what the future holds.”