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Fire dept. discussed at Council

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Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams is pouring water on any suggestion that a move to increase use of auxiliary firefighters might result in fewer full-time firefighters on staff.
Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams
Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams is pouring water on any suggestion that a move to increase use of auxiliary firefighters might result in fewer full-time firefighters on staff.
City council this week agreed with a recommendation from the fiscal review advisory committee to have the fire department create an operational and staffing plan that includes a greater use of auxiliaries.
Council members wouldn't say whether that might mean fewer career firefighters, suggesting that was a matter better discussed in-camera.
Coun. Helena Konanz noted the recommendation stemmed from a consultant's review of Penticton fire department services which was released earlier this year.
The report by Calgary-based Behr Energy Services Ltd. included a suggestion that the No. 2 Hall on Dawson Avenue could be utilized as an auxiliary paid-on-call station, while the No. 1 Hall downtown would be continually staffed by at least five on-duty firefighters.
The report said although this option is a possibility, it is not recommended.
"There are budget advantages to the city, however there are a number of disadvantages to residents and businesses in the Volunteer Station 202 (No. 2 Hall) response area," the consultants stated.
"The longer response times would increase losses in the event of a fire."
The Behr Report noted about 95 per cent of the department's $4.2-million budget is devoted to staffing costs. Of this, less than one per cent goes to paid-on-call firefighters who earn a maximum of $17.50 an hour.
The Penticton Fire Department currently has 30 paid-on-call auxiliaries and 32 career firefighters. Both fire halls are staffed 24 hours a day by career firefighters.
Williams said Wednesday a review team looking into the recommendations of the Behr Report recently brought some recommendations to the fiscal review committee.
The fire chief said although there is a call for greater use of auxiliaries, there is no suggestion that they replace career firefighters who are trained to a higher standard.
He added if the No. 2 Hall was staffed by auxiliaries this would reduce the fire department's response time to the city's main industrial area.
"I would expect that a lot of people in the industrial area would be very upset to find that now there's going to be an increased response time for a fire truck to get to their area," he said.
Williams said the recommendation simply aims at improving the department's auxiliary program and increasing their involvement in fire calls.
"If there's a better way of doing it, a more cost-effective way of doing it or a more efficient way of doing it, that's what we're looking for," he said.
Meanwhile, council will also look into preparing a business case for the possible establishment of a new fire training site in Penticton.
Coun. John Vassilaki suggested the city should again inquire about support from neighbouring communities for such a facility. He noted a previous proposal for a regional training centre was rejected by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board.
"I think we should try one more time. Perhaps, if that fails a second time, then the City of Penticton can take over and build their own and then charge everybody for doing their training in our city," he said.
Coun. Andrew Jakubeit noted area firefighters currently have to travel to Vernon, Salmon Arm or the Lower Mainland for enhanced training.

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