Penticton conducting review of fire department

Process will review operations and service delivery, identifying areas for potential improvements and cost-saving opportunities

An upcoming review of the Penticton Fire Department will have little in common with last year’s core services review, which led to staffing cuts and reorganization throughout the City of Penticton departments.

“It isn’t at the same level, it’s more of an operational review,” said city manager Annette Antoniak, adding that this review actually comes at the recommendation of fire chief Wayne Williams. The stated purpose is to review operations and service delivery, identifying areas for potential improvements and cost-saving opportunities.

Cost-saving opportunities, however, are unlikely to include staffing cuts. Staffing levels were increased after a 2007 staffing review of the fire department recommended adding more full-time firefighters.

“That wasn’t the intent and I am sure it wasn’t the intent of the fire chief,” said Antoniak. He brought it up as wanting a more updated operational review. It seemed like the right thing to do, she continued, because the core services review was didn’t really get in depth into what the fire department wanted in terms of information.

According to deputy fire chief Dave Spalding, this review will build on the work done in the 2007 staff review.

“That was always intended to bolt onto a larger project,” said Spalding. This review is going to look at operational elements like resources, facilities, training and procedures. In addition, the winning bidder, Behr Energy Systems, has also been requested to do a cost/benefit analysis of services, including the First Responder program, a range of rescue operations — including water — and hazardous materials responses.

“That is all part of master planning and you need a proper review that looks at call times, all those kind of factors. Right now, we don’t know,” said Antoniak.

The possibility of opting out of the First Responder program, which sees firefighters with specialized medical training arriving on the scene first, was raised by Coun. Helen Konanz, but Antoniak said that wasn’t being considered as part of the review criteria, though she did point out concerns that the cost of the program is entirely borne by the community.

Spalding said that there is a large call volume for first response calls, and it remains an important part of their service.

“I see it as a benefit,” he said, explaining that though delay is rarely longer than 20 minutes,  Penticton ambulances may be engaged in other duties, such as transporting patients to Kelowna or other communities.

Though the name of the company, Behr Energy Services, is a bit misleading, Spalding said they appear to have considerable experience.

“I think Behr does a lot of work in the oil industry as far as risk assessment and business planning, but they also have a branch that does fire departments,” he said.

The team Behr has selected to do the review includes former Regina fire chief Richard McCullough and Glen Maddess, retired fire chief of Vancouver fire and rescue services, along with mapping and emergency response specialists.

The scoring process for the bid process was heavily weighted in favour of the approach to the scope of work and experience. Purchasing manager Cathy Ingram said that was to ensure they got a thorough report.

“We’re looking for something out of the box,” she said. “We just didn’t want a cookie cutter coming in, giving us the best price and giving us a generic report.”