Kelowna city council has shelved a fire department plan that calls for two new fire halls and as many as 40 more firefighters over the next 10 years, saying it’s to expensive.
The proposed new 2012-2022 strategic plan was to be presented to council Monday. But at the council meeting, Fire Chief Jeff Carlisle said based on early feedback to the plan, he was advising council hold off accepting it in principle. The plan was released late last week.
And based on the comments he received about the plan from the mayor and councillors at Monday’s meeting, it appeared unlikely the plan would have been approved anyway.
“There is a lot more consultation needed,” said Coun. Gail Given. “I’m not entirely certain we can afford this at this time.”
Her colleague Coun. Andre Blanleil was more blunt.
“I think this plan is unaffordable,” he told Carlisle. “We need a plan we can afford and I don’t think this is it.”
The fire department’s new strategic plan, meant to replace the current one drawn up two years ago, was requested by city council. It includes several recommendations, the biggest of which are the the building, manning and equipping of two new fireballs in the city over the next 10 years. The new halls are called for in the North Glenmore and KLO/Gordon areas.
While the North Glenmore hall was expected and has been eyed for several years, the emergence of the KLO/Gordon area hall in the plan was new.
The new plan identifies what it calls a gap in resources in the South Pandosy urban area and a lack of resources to back up the existing Mission fire station and says the KLO/Gordon hall would address that.
But the plan does not stop there.
While fit calls for as many as 40 more paid firefighters, it does not talk much about adding, or using the exiting, volunteer firefighters, according to Mayor Walter Gray. He expressed concern about the lack of attention paid to the possible role of volunteer firefighters in the city in the future.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity,” said Gray.
Following the council meeting he said he was disappointed to see the proposed new plan “didn’t seem to have any focus on the potential or value of volunteer firefighters.”
The department has a large contingent of volunteers and two of its five existing halls are manned by volunteers, said Carlisle.
The plan also recommends assessing future fire service needs in the Black Mountain and Mission South Slopes areas.
The proposed new North Glenmore hall would help the department better service the McKinley, Glenmore, UBCO, airport and north end of the city industrial area., according to plan and would cost $4 million to build. The KLO/Gordon hall would improve response coverage to the area around it, as well as in southeast Kelowna, the downtown core and the Mission. It would cost $3 million.
Both new fire halls would also need to be staffed and equipped at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
But Blanleil, whose brother was Kelonwa’s fire chief prior to Carlisle taking over the department, said he is concerned about the call for such large expenses when the local economy is still languishing, growth has not been as strong in the city as predicted when times were better and there is a need for other services throughout the city.
He said he did not feel Kelonwa is currently underserved when it comes to fire protection.
Another former fire chief, Gerry Zimmermann,sits as a councillor and said the issue of the growing number of calls for service downtown also needs to be looked at before a final decision is made on the plan.
Carlisle took the council criticisms of the plan in stride, saying he will go back and look at the issues raised. He said he feels the city is well-served by his department and while the status quo will have to continue, the level of of that status quo is high.
“I recognize that there are a lot of financial pressures on council,” said the fire chief, adding the apparent rejection of the plan will not mean cutbacks to his department.
But he said the city must be mindful of the rate of growth in future when it comes to fire fighting services.
In the proposed plan it says both new fire halls would cost about $2 million per year each to staff. A fire engine for the North Glenmore hall would cost another $800,000 and a bush truck a further $135,000. That hall would cover an estimated 7,000 residents, as well as another 8,000 people at UBCO. The plan predicts about 1,600 calls to the hall for service each year.
The KLO/Gordon station would cover an estimated 6,000 residents and respond to an anticipated 1,700 calls for service per year.as well as back up the existing Mission fire hall.
“Today, local governments face strong demands for cost reduction and increased value in the delivery of service,” says the plan’s executive summery. “Politicians and leaders in local government are relentlessly looking for strategies that balance public expectations, deliver valued services/programs, while maintaining fiscal restraint amidst global, international, national, and local economic realities. Fort these reasons a review of the (existing) KFD 2010-2019 strategic plan was considered timely.”