VERNON - While the City of Vernon and its firefighters union spar over appropriate service levels and financial resources, a quick comparison to similar-sized cities shows it's likely too early to tell if Vernon’s new firefighting model will make a dent in the budget.
Vernon sends two firefighters, instead of the conventional four-person crew, to first medical response calls. Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky says the city moved to that model in November, 2013 to save money. The decision means if four firefighters are on duty, two could be on a first medical call, fueling a truck, or attending a call separate from the other two members. The downside is when members are called to fight fires, they are restricted in their response. For example, they can't enter a burning building until all four firefighters have arrived.
The Vernon Professional Firefighters Association pointed to a YouTube video showing firefighters asking the public for help on a fire call as proof of the model's ineffectiveness.
But Vernon's overall fire budget hasn't reduced since the model was implemented, and the city spends more than four out of five cities of similar population size.
Vernon residents pay roughly $128 per capita for fire protection. According to budget numbers obtained by the various cities, only Port Moody pays more at $185. Penticton's at $126, Campbell River pays $120, Langford $79 and District of Mission spends just $74 per person.
Mayor Sawatzky says due to Vernon’s geographic size and number of professional firefighters, fire protection can be more expensive than in other communities.
“I think we’re very financially responsible,” Sawatzky says. “It (response model change) won’t have huge budget changes but it’s an important part of good housekeeping.”
We’ll have to wait and see how the two-person response affects the budget, but an estimate can be reached based on previous years the city used the same model.
Fire chief Keith Green says those savings were around $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
“When you’re 90 per cent wages in operating budgets there’s not a lot of room to find efficiencies and savings. You have to make tough decisions at times,” Green says.
He says changes with B.C. Ambulance could result in less calls to the fire department, and subsequent savings, so it’s hard to tell how much the overall budget will go down this year.
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Fire Service Budgets in Similar Sized B.C. Communities by Charlotte Helston
Video Credit: YouTube