May 30, 2014 - 1:09 PM
MAYOR SAYS STAFFING STRUCTURE IS EFFICIENT, COST-SAVING AND DOESN’T CAUSE HIM CONCERN
VERNON - A heated debate over Vernon's decision to deploy fire crews in groups of two instead of four continues to simmer.
The Vernon Professional Firefighters Association is speaking out about staffing structures following the release of a YouTube video showing a fire captain asking members of the public for assistance while battling a house fire.
“That’s dangerous to do. You don’t want to expose the public to smoke and carcinogens, we cannot ask the public to assist with that. It’s not okay,” says Brent Bond, association president. “The city is putting themselves in massive liability.”
Fire chief Keith Green insists the bystanders weren’t in any danger and defends the crew’s decision to ask for help. He says a total of six firefighters were on scene within four to six minutes, though they didn’t all arrive at the same time because of a management decision in November 2013 that split up crews. The first two members on scene were dispatched from the fire hall, while the other two were out fueling a truck. Two volunteer firefighters in the area also responded.
“That video didn’t start when the crew arrived on scene,” Bond says. “You can hear the sirens coming. It was only two firefighters there to start.”
WorkSafe B.C. requires four firefighters to be on scene before they can enter the structure. If someone had been inside, Bond says the two initial responders couldn’t have gone in to rescue them.
For him, the situation caught on camera is an alarming, and common, example of the department’s present response model at work. Because only two members are required on first medical response calls, the department shifted its staffing structure last November.
“What management did in an attempt to save money was split the crew of four into two groups of two. That’s not common fire practice anywhere in B.C.,” Bond says.
He says it was Vernon’s current fire chief, Keith Green, who returned to the four-person response model several years ago. The two-person model had been in effect since 2008 when the first medical response program was launched and Bond says it was “nothing but trouble.”
Bond maintains it’s a risky response model today, especially in situations like a burning building where “every second counts.” He says the scene captured on video plays out all too often.
“It happened just the other day but it didn’t happen to be caught on YouTube,” Bond says.
The firefighters association is in discussions with the City of Vernon to change it back to a four-person response crew.
Vernon mayor Rob Sawatzky sees no issues with the system, insisting response times are consistently within the national standards.
“We’ve tried to rationalize a more appropriate, less costly response so firefighters do not attend these (first medical response calls) with large equipment,” Sawatzky says. “We operate under financial realities.”
He says the fire protection budget rises more rapidly than any other city department each year and adds “there’s no substance to suggestions that we have an inadequate number of fire fighters.”
Sawatzky doesn’t believe there’s any greater risk to firefighters or to the public given the present response model.
“I don’t have any more concerns than I always have about everyone who is involved in dangerous work and responds to these situations,” Sawatzky says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014