To ensure that West Kelowna communities don’t go without fire coverage in the future, city council approved the hiring of eight new firefighters.
In a report submitted to council, the West Kelowna Fire Rescue requested funding in the 2019 budget for what 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.
The report says firefighters in the WKFR regularly work overtime and extended tours of duty beyond 14 hours and up to 38 hours.
The shortage lead to the temporary closing of the Lakeview Heights fire hall, all for one shift which is a safety issue —the temporary closure is being called a brown out by the City of West Kelowna.
Fire Chief Jason Brolund says the closure happened because there were only two firefighters on duty and as per the collective agreement and legislated requirements that firefighters work under, it could not open without a third.
“The brown out happened because we had a vacancy that went unfilled that day,” said Brolund. “We had a contingency plan in place and we were able to get through that day. Our goal is to avoid that in the future.”
Worksafe BC says when 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.
Brolund says that they will be able to avoid it once the firefighters are trained and placed in September. This summer he says that his team will be able to do their best when it comes to flooding and the wildfires. Hiring will begin in a few weeks.
According to West Kelowna Mayor, Gord Milsom the city’s continued population growth since incorporating in 2007 has allowed for the funds to be raised to support the request to hire eight more firefighters. The population has grown by an estimated 3,000 residents in 12 years. In the 2016 census it was reported that there were 32,655 people living in West Kelowna.
“It’s not healthy for them and their families when they are so committed to their job, they are willing to work overtime, double overtime and extended shifts. They are supposed to be working four days and then take four days off work…. but they don’t have anyone there to fill the gap,” said Milsom.
There are currently 32 firefighters in West Kelowna. The hiring of eight more will bring the force up to 40 members and should put an end to short staffing.
“It’s a public safety budget (overall), there is a lot of money going toward fire and police, but we can afford it,” said Milsom.
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