Vernon fire hall tackles overtime bill

Attempts to extinguish overtime costs at Vernon’s fire hall are growing.

Attempts to extinguish overtime costs at Vernon’s  fire hall are growing.

Council has endorsed a strategy to reduce staff compensation beyond regularly scheduled shifts.

“We’re responsible for the cost to the community,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

“To the credit of the chief and our administrator, there is a rigorous process to bring it under control.”

Net overtime costs in 2012 were $273,935. That included about 320 additional hours ($22,443) for The Rise wildfire Aug. 14 and 109 hours for the Birnie Road wildfire ($7,317) Aug. 21.

“If there are a number of fires, you can’t just stop,” said Sawatzky.

There was also premium time pay for statutory holidays and off-duty training time required to achieve certification.

Part of the strategy includes trying to conduct training exercises while staff is on-duty and implementing roster pre-planning for scheduling improvement.

Sawatzky says one of the challenges the city faces is firefighters’ pay is based on parity with Vancouver.

Some overtime is also related to the first medical responders program, and the fire department, as a result, is  limiting response to life-threatening cases.

Sawatzky considers first medical responders a form of downloading as medical care is handled by the B.C. Ambulance Service and is a provincial mandate.

FMR cost the city between $60,000 and $80,000 in 2012 and Sawatzky isn’t sure if the service should continue in the future.

“We’re always reconsidering these things. It’s come up at council,” he said.

The fire department hopes to decrease overtime costs by $30,330 in 2013 and $26,300 in 2014.