Fire chiefs are withholding judgement while awaiting details on a proposal to increase and standardize pay rates across the region’s volunteer fire departments.
The board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which oversees seven halls, is considering the $150,000 plan and its impact on taxpayers during its deliberations on the 2014 budget.
Chief Darlene Bailey of the Kaleden Volunteer Fire Department said neither she nor her colleagues elsewhere have been consulted on the proposed raises, and didn’t ask for them either.
“Any time we felt that more remuneration or pay was needed, we put it into our budget,” she said.
“And at this point we have done nothing like that because everybody is perfectly fine with what we’re doing.”
The RDOS proposal would see all firefighters earn $20 an hour while training or attending a call, plus create three tiers based on call volume by which officers would be paid.
At the least busy departments in Tulameen and Willowbrook, chiefs would see their stipend bump up from nothing to $8,000 a year.
Fire chiefs with the busiest department, Okanagan Falls, would see their total pay rise by $3,000 to $15,000.
Other officers in the departments would get raises too.
Adopting the entire plan at once would cost an estimated $150,000 a year, but RDOS staff has suggested phasing it in over four years.
The annual tax hit on an average homeowner at full roll-out would range from $233 in Willowbrook to $8 in Okanagan Falls.
In response to concerns about the rationale for the move, RDOS emergency services supervisor Dale Kronebusch told a budget workshop last week that the board requested two years ago that he harmonize operations at the volunteer departments
“It was a movement for us to standardize the operational guidelines, standardize the way we do things, standardize job descriptions and everything else,” he explained.
Kronebusch said volunteers currently receive an average of $9 an hour when they’re on calls, which can become a financial hardship if they have to leave their day job or hire a babysitter, and could make it difficult to attract or retain firefighters.
Chief Tony Trovao of the Naramata Fire Rescue Service said he’ll be happy with whatever the RDOS board decides.
“I didn’t get into the position because I wanted to make a whole bunch of money,” he said.
“And anyone who goes into a volunteer setup thinking that they’re there for the money, it’s kind of the wrong reason to be part of the group.”
Chief Bob Haddow of the Okanagan Falls Volunteer Fire Department said if budgets are tight, he’d prefer money be spent on upgrading and maintaining equipment, rather than upping pay for volunteers.
He added he has no problem with the RDOS not consulting chiefs on the issue.
The RDOS board has agreed to strike a committee to examine the proposal and develop recommendations while consultation on the budget continues.