The City of Penticton’s decision to return funding for two firefighter positions cut in the 2014 budget is a step in the right direction, according to a local union representative.
But discussion of the loss of the two firefighter positions, according to Mike Richards, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1399 is best left in the past.
“From our point of view that we don’t want to dwell on what happened in the past and why we got to being those two guys short,” he said. “I just want to set the table to go forward and really show some appreciation to not only this council, but all of the community support we have had.”
That includes, he said, all the letters to the editor, comments out in the community and even local businesses stepping up with offers to help fund the positions.
“We are looking forward and wanting to do the best we can,” said Richards. The addition of the two positions means better safety for the firefighters, and in turn the community. WorkSafeBC regulations require at least four firefighters on scene before entry to a burning building can be attempted, with an additional two on scene in the first 10 minutes or the attack has to be cut short.
To have the minimum required on each engine, means the fire department will be able to deliver full protection to a large area of Penticton 90 per cent of the time.
“There are still areas of Penticton that are going to be outside of that and obviously some of these new Penticton Indian Band areas are going to be outside of that, but it is still going to be a level of fire protection for them that is going to be above what they have now,” said Richards, referring to the new areas of coverage that will be added when the city finalizes an agreement with the Penticton Indian Band.
“Now we will continue to work and monitor and look at response times,” he said. Those responses will be enhanced by council’s decision to add a training officer to the fire department staff, a move Richards said shows commitment to the community and to the firefighters.
The hiring of a training officer, according to Richards, will ensure that all of those firefighters that respond to any call are fully trained and certified with the latest techniques and meet all regulatory requirements.
The firefighters are, however, still without a contract.
“We did have another attempt at a mediated settlement, which was just as unsuccessful as the previous one,” said Richards, adding that the arbitration process is still underway. The arbitration request has been approved by the ministry of labour, and lawyers from both sides are trying to agree upon an arbitrator. Richards expects once that is done a hearing will be set in the early spring to hear both sides. Once that takes place the arbitrator has 28 days to deliver a report, meaning the earliest a deal covering 2010 and 2011 will likely come is in summer 2015.
“Unless we are so far into it, the arbitrator says lets bring things forward and get more up to date. Some cities have agreed to terms through the end of 2019,” said Richards.
But firefighters will continue to deliver their service, on and off the job, regardless, he explained.
“We commit to you to continue to do our best out there whether it is while on duty or during our charitable fundraisers or volunteer work as coaches, board members, School PACs etc. This is a community that we are all a piece of and need to do our part to keep us strong in times of adversity,” wrote Richards in a release. “If at any time you have any questions around what we do please feel free to visit our halls, give us a call or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The firefighters also have a page for their fundraising efforts on Facebook at Penticton Fire Fighter’s Charitable Society.
Recently, Penticton Fire Fighters Local 1399 donated $25,000 by way of fundraising events and direct payroll deductions for the new Burn Fund Centre in Vancouver.
Teaming up with Vernon Fire Fighters Local 1517 and West Kelowna Fire Fighters Local 4457, who each also raised $25,000, provided an opportunity to directly sponsor the Library/Common area of the new Burn Fund Centre.
The Penticton Fire Fighters Charitable Society donated $2,500 to Muscular Dystrophy Canada that was raised during their recent boot drive in the community.