I feel that Vernon council’s decision to not renew the contract with the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Fire Department is misguided and based on many false assumptions. It is misguided because the only input from firefighters made prior to the decision came from Vernon Fire Department management, and I would argue that this provides a far too narrow perspective than would have been provided if the OKLVFD had been involved.
I served as a proud member of the OKLVFD for 11 years shortly after Okanagan Landing was annexed by the city and am quite familiar with the ongoing attempts by the VFD to take control of the Landing fire department since that pivotal date. It has long been an aggravation with Landing firefighters that, in spite of their efforts to provide the best firefighting and community service possible, VFD management and union reps have sought to present them to city council as a second rate fire department in need of oversight by professional experts.
Most Landing residents have not viewed their fire department this way nor have past city councils, and that has allowed the Landing department to continue to provide more than adequate fire and rescue service to its residents at a bargain to taxpayers.
How much of a bargain? Figures from the city’s 2011 annual report show that fire and rescue services cost the city $4.35 million, with $3.59 million of that for employee salaries and benefits. In contrast, the OKLVFD had a budget of $300,000 for that year. In 2007, fire and rescue services cost city taxpayers $488 per household. That number rose to $605 for 2011, a 20 per cent increase in a four-year span. The press release provided by city council Aug. 3 states, “the benefits of amalgamation will also include a reduction in overall costs ($60,000 claims VFD chief Keith Green).” Since much of the work on the Landing fire trucks, fire hall improvements and grounds maintenance are done for free by Landing volunteers working on their own time, how is this savings possible?
Common sense would tell you that part-time professionals (OKLVFD members) who now receive $17 an hour for call-outs would be a bargain to taxpayers compared to the 24 VFD members who made more than $80,000 in earnings last year. Six of those members earned more than $90,000 and six earned more than $100,000.
But the OKLVFD is going to continue to remain a volunteer fire department, only it will now just be a part of the larger “happy family” of the Vernon Volunteer Fire Department? Think again folks. Since Vernon’s last chief brought in the dual-response system of responding to call-outs, OKLVFD members are often ordered to stand down just as Vernon volunteers are seldom called. One big cohesive unit? Yeah, right.
Since the Landing fire department was forced into the dual-response system, they have had the biggest turnover of firefighters in their hall’s history. Why does this happen? Probably because volunteer firefighters get tired of training week after week and then being treated as second-class firefighters when ever there is an incident.
My prediction is if city council does not reverse its decision on amalgamating the Landing department and revising the very expensive dual response system, there will be a very short time period before the VFD will be placing career, union firefighters in the Landing hall. All of the steps have now been taken to ensure it will happen in the not too distant future.
And, as I’ve pointed out earlier, it’s going to cost all Vernon taxpayers a lot more money for perhaps a nominal improvement in fire service, if any.
Ask yourselves the question, “If full-time, paid professional firefighters are so necessary, why has Coldstream never gone that route?” Then pick up your phone or e-mail the council members who voted for amalgamation — Lord, Quiring, Cunningham and Sawatzky — and let them know they have made a big mistake.