EDITORIAL: Firefighters’ contract is long overdue

Penticton firefighters have been without a contract since 2009.

If you talked to 10 people on the street, most of them would probably tell you how important their job or business is to the functioning of the community.

But it’s just as likely all would agree that firefighters trump them as essential to the life and well-being of the community. There are few of us who have been thankful for their services at one time or another, either from personal need or watching them do their jobs; from prying someone out of a wrecked car to fighting wildfires that threaten the city.

In a small town like Penticton, firefighters might not be called upon to put their lives on the line on a daily basis, but like paramedics, RCMP and other emergency personnel, they have made the commitment to do so. That deserves respect.

For Penticton’s firefighters to have been without a contract since 2009 is a disgrace. In the meantime, they’ve endured some serious cuts to staff at the department: five members lost when dispatch was outsourced and regionalized, and another two members cut when the city decided not to replace two retiring firefighters.

Meanwhile the city managed to find $49,500 for a review of the fire department in 2012, following up on a review in 2007. And based on information from the union, the bill for the binding arbitration process the two sides are now entering could top $100,000, including legal fees.

Two sides to every story applies to contract negotiations as well, and we are not saying the firefighters’ union may not have been intransigent in their wage demands, or that the city hasn’t been trying to negotiate in good faith.

But five years is too long for any negotiation to have gone on.

Certainly, the firefighters’ union needs to take into account that as a small city, Penticton may not be as flush with cash as other areas.

But for its part, the city needs to recognize and reward the devotion to duty needed to be a firefighter, and understand that no one in that position should feel undervalued.