—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News West Kelowna Fire Rescue, seen here set up to extinguish six small, deliberately set fires on Mt. Boucherie earlier this year, is asking council to approve the hiring of eight more firefighters.

Firefighters request for extra staff and a re-brand in West Kelowna budget

West Kelowna Fire Rescue is asking for an additional eight firefighters to be hired

West Kelowna Fire Rescue is looking for more firefighters and a return to its historic crest.

The department wants city council to approve the hiring of eight more firefighters to meet what it says is a critical need and to replace the current crest it uses.

The crest, used for the last 10 years, is a multi-coloured design that is expensive to reproduce on vehicles and uniforms according to the fire department in its 2019 supplemental budget request report.

“With the 70th anniversary of the WKFR approaching in 2019, the department is looking to revert to using the previous historical crest going forward. The crest is simple in design and cost effective to reproduce in all formats,” reads the report to council from the WKFR.

Reverting to the historical crest will reduce ongoing reproduction costs because the design is simpler in design. The WKFR is requesting $15,000 to re-brand the fire department in time for their anniversary.

The funding would allow the WKFR to start the process of replacing existing crests on uniforms, vehicles and signage, and new vehicles uniforms and signs that will be ordered.

The report says the city’s human resources manager and fire chief have both determined there is a “critical resource shortage” of firefighters due to the combination of high-hazard physical work and fatigue stress.

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The report says firefighters in the WKFR regularly work overtime and extended tours of duty beyond 14 hours and up to 38 hours.

Worksafe BC says of two or three firefighters are on shift, they must wait for at least one more to join them on scene before they can enter a burning building. The main Westbank station currently meets the requirement, but the smaller Lakeview Heights station does not, says the report.

The city’s human resources department has noted a marked increase in sick leave for illness and injury among firefighters, as well as WCB claims for accidents on the job.

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“Recent evaluation with the WKFR Priority Plan and the IAFF collective agreement has found that the most effective and efficient option is to add eight additional firefighters. This option will increase coverage to the community and result in a reduction of overtime costs that could be used to offset increased staffing costs,” reads the 2019 business case for the additions.

The WKFR’s workload has been increasing, according to the report. It’s firefighters respond to approximately 3,300 calls for service and conduct an additional 2,200 fire inspections and public education events annually.

The fire department request is included in the budget submission that also recommends a three per cent increase in city property taxes. That decision has not yet been voted on by council and is still a draft.

The first review of the 2019 budget was discussed by council at a Dec. 11 meeting.

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