14-20 MINUTE RESPONSE TIME NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Concerns of inadequate emergency protection have resurfaced in a Vernon community.
The roughly 200-person community of Canadian Lakeview Estates, located at the end of Tronson Road has been asking the city for improved firefighting resources since 2010. They say emergency response time is unreasonable at between 14-20 minutes, and are pushing the city to enhance service to the area with two on-duty firefighters based out of the Okanagan Landing station.
Jim Dubois, with the Lakeview Estates Community Association says a recommendation for an improved fire protection plan and fire hall was scrapped in 2010 when council chose to proceed with the construction of a fire hall in Predator Ridge.
"Although the budget constraints of the day did not allow for improved fire protection at that time, the hazard and risk has not diminished," Dubois told council Monday evening, adding the risk has increased with the growing population of the area.
Dubois said a reasonable response time could be achieved by staffing the Okanagan Landing fire hall with two full-time professional firefighters. Currently, the hall is operated solely by on-call volunteers.
"Timing is crucial in a fire or medical emergency," Dubois said. "We find it very hard to accept insufficient emergency services that may result in the unnecessary loss of property or worse, the loss of life."
Dubois said staffing the Okanagan Landing hall with two full-time firefighters would also benefit other neighbourhoods, like the Outback, Bella Vista, Lakeridge, The Rise, Tronson Road and Adventure Bay.
"As tax paying residents we want to be adequately protected when a fire or a medical emergency occurs," Dubois said. "We recognize that it is not a matter of if, but when."
Jack Blair, Vernon Fire Rescue deputy chief of operations, says meeting the needs of Vernon's outlying communities is an ongoing challenge. The rural city already encompasses a large area, and new developments are constantly increasing the breadth of territory requiring coverage.
"This is a big and spread out city," Blair says. "We cover Predator Ridge to the Foothills, and everything in between."
While on-call firefighters respond as fast as they can, it can take time for them to check in at the station before heading out to the scene. It costs more to have on-duty firefighters, but it can definitely boost response time.
"It's great to have the service, but we have to do it without a huge cost to taxpayers," Blair says.
Over the years, Blair says the force has grown alongside the population. As more of Vernon's demographic becomes elderly, he says there will be greater need for the department's services.
"It's not just about fires, it's the medical calls too," Blair says. "There are lots of trails out (in Canadian Lakeview Estates), we're often called there for rescues. It can be a real challenge for B.C. Ambulance to get out there."
Ultimately, he says decisions about the fire service are in the city's hands. "They'll get a report from the fire chief, some statistics and recommendations, but then the ball is in the mayor and councillors' courts."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)309-5230.