In 1999, I was invited by Kelly Camalush to join a band of brothers — 30 volunteers of the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Fire Department — to serve my community. Being a business owner in the Landing, I felt that this was my calling and my duty to the area to put back as they say. I had always been a volunteer, being there for my kids with Cubs and air cadets. Finally, I was able to do something selfish — something for myself, something I could be proud of.
You may not know what it is like to be a member of the Okanagan Landing Fire Department and things have changed since its incorporation into the City of Vernon in 1993. We (I still count myself as one of them) initially were established in 1975 to provide fire protection to an area outside of the city. In 1993, our area was included into the city and our “rag-tag” group was invited to provide fire protection service to the Landing as a contractor, which we have done faithfully with excellent service up until the present.
We continued to practice every Tuesday night and on weekends to hone our skills without remuneration as our practice pay always went back into a fund to give back to the community. Whether it be the annual Halloween fireworks or the Landing Regatta and others, we were glad to be of service.
These 30 guys did not join to become volunteers for the City of Vernon. We joined because we felt we had a responsibility to the citizens of the Landing. Some will say that the Landing is part of the city but it’s not. We are the “other” guys and we are proud of our tradition and history.
I’m not quite sure how there can be a savings of $60,000 per year by not having us as a contractor as reported by Chief Green when you take the following into account:
As per our previous contracts, we maintained and built our buildings, supplied and maintained our equipment and provided emergency services to our area. Since our last contract, the Vernon department initiated a dual response system, whereby they came to the Landing emergency calls to assist. It’s something that had never been required for the past 30 years. This dual response often would leave their hall short of staff for the rest of the city and the paid, off-duty members would need to be called in on overtime. This system eroded to the point where the Vernon department was called to every Landing call and our members were only called as backup.
Out of our annual contract of between $250,000 to $280,000 (which was supplemented by an additional tax to Okanagan Landing residents), $50,000 was set aside by the City of Vernon for new equipment replacement. That grew to over $500,000, part of which was used to purchase a new water tender for the Landing. It now proudly sits in the city’s downtown hall while they decide which location it will best suit. You can bet that it won’t ever be operated by a Landing member.
One last point, the powers-that-be, through the City of Vernon, have implemented a computerized training program the Landing members are required to complete to a level of proficiency as if they were full-time, paid staff. This requires that these volunteers put in their regular 40-hour-per-week job-related work, plus additional computer training on their own time. This leaves little time for truck pumping and fire skills training which leads to an erosion of their actual fire training proficiency.
The mayor says that this will not be revisited and that it is a done deal.
That will be the end of the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Fire Department. I will always be proud and stand tall because I was part of that group and will carry on that history to all that will listen.
Past member of OKLVFD