One of the Penticton Fire Department engines. (File)

One of the Penticton Fire Department engines. (File)

Penticton fire chief proposes new engine, more staff for 2021

Council approved the requests in their budget deliberations on Nov. 24

The Penticton fire department is aiming to be bigger and better than ever before, come 2021.

According to Fire Chief Larry Watkinson’s 2021 budget presentation to Penticton’s council on Nov. 24, additional staff are needed as the city continues to expand.

In addition to additional staff, the department will be getting a new rescue engine that will allow them to respond to calls without needing to switch vehicles.

“It is growing taller and bigger, and that poses significant challenges for our fire service.

“Being able to address responses to large buildings that are highly populated with the appropriate types of equipment and response mechanisms in place so that we can best serve our community, is something that we are challenged by,” said Watkinson.

Following council’s approval, the operating budget for the fire department will go from $6,246,848 for 2020 to a budget of $6,294,635 for 2021. Due to COVID-19 and other factors, the forecasted budget for 2020 is expected to be $5,578,153.

That budgetary increase is separate from the $55,000 for emergency training centre upgrades, equipment and fire hose replacement and the $990,000 earmarked in the capital budget for the new pumper-rescue combination engine. The new engine is another one of the ways that the department is aiming to become more effective.

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Watkinson has brought their volunteer numbers from 20 up to 36 auxiliary volunteer firefighters. In his report, he suggested adding an additional full-time firefighter position.

The fire department not only responds to fires, but also performs rescue operations, conducts inspections, and assists in medical responses. In 2020, the department made 18 rescues on the Penticton River Channel, according to Watkinson’s presentation.

One of the biggest achievements that Watkinson pointed to was the day-to-day operations and quality of service that the fire department provides.

“I’m so proud of the Penticton Fire Department and our members,” said Watkinson. “How we responded to this year’s complexities with COVID, and the discipline our members have had, the respect in our community for those who are struggling, and the ‘no call too small’ type of attitude that we have for our community.”

Now with more staff, Watkinson plans on adding an additional firefighter to each engine. This, he said, will increase the effectiveness of the department’s initial responses by 25 per cent.

“It will allow our firefighters to stay on one vehicle for every response,” said Watkinson. “Right now we’re moving from a fire truck to a rescue truck depending on the type of call; and that takes time.”

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However, his presentation wasn’t all positive.

Watkinson expressed some of the concerns that arose over 2020, including the difficulty of performing training due to COVID-19, and the nature of some of the calls the department responds to.

“However, I will be honest it has been a very difficult year,” said Watkinson. “I do worry about their exposure when it comes to the opioid crisis, and dealing with that situation too. Too often our members are exposed to tragic events that are sadly fatal in the outcomes.”

The annual Wildfire Training Symposium is also planned to return next year, after the event was cancelled due to COVID-19. The provincial government deemed the training from the symposium to be essential, and Watkinson toured the province for several weeks this year to provide the education to over 200 firefighters that would normally be done here in Penticton.

That new engine, according to Watkinson, will also allow the department to consolidate some of their fleet costs and reduce its operating costs going forward.

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