Faster response times means better firefighting in Kelowna’s north end - InfoNews

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Faster response times means better firefighting in Kelowna’s north end

FILE PHOTO - Firefighters on scene of a barn fire in Glenmore, Dec. 7, 2016. Dramatic growth in the number of Kelowna firefighters will allow crews to get to fires in North Glenmore and the industrial area next to Lake Country much faster.
December 19, 2018 - 2:00 PM

KELOWNA - Despite a 30 per cent cut in medical calls over the past few months, Kelowna’s fire department is going to grow by eight firefighters over the next two years, completing a 20 per cent increase in manpower over three years.

The Kelowna Fire Department employed 96 full-time firefighters in 2017 before adding 12 this year. Four more will be hired in each of the next two years. This dramatic growth, will allow crews to get to fires in North Glenmore and the industrial area next to Lake Country much faster.

And fire chief Travis Whiting says the need for a new fire hall in Glenmore to replace the temporary fire station has nothing to do with changes by B.C. Ambulance that have reduced the number of medical callouts his crews have to rush to.

Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting.
Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/City of Kelowna

“Our staffing model was not built on medical calls,” Whiting told iNFOnews.ca. “Our primary responsibility is for fires.”

The department’s target is to be at any fire within 7:40 minutes of getting the call. That allows time for firefighters to dress and six minutes to get to the fire.

“Having a station out in the Glenmore area saves us five or six minutes of drive time, or more, which can contribute greatly in reductions to fire spread and to keeping fires in the room of origin,” Whiting said. It also helps with forest or brush fires.

As Kelowna grows around the UBC Okanagan area and North Glenmore, it was deemed essential to get quicker response times to fires. Right now, the city pays Lake Country about $286,000 a year to service the northern end of the city, including the industrial area south of Beaver Lake Road. That amount will be cut by $77,500 in 2019 due to the expansion into Glenmore.

Eventually, Whiting hopes to eliminate that dependence. While the Lake Country fire hall is closer than Glenmore will be to the industrial area, Lake Country runs a volunteer fire department so response times are slower since crews have to leave work to get to the fire hall first.

The 20 per cent expansion in manpower is needed because this is a 20 per cent increase in the number of fire halls in Kelowna, bringing the total to five: Glenmore, downtown, Mission, Rutland and the main fire hall on Enterprise Way.

In order to have a four-person crew on site, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 16 staff have to be hired plus a squad captain, Whiting explained. There are two shifts a day each working four days a week, requiring 20 people. In addition, each hall has a two-person crew to operate the rescue truck.

The existing fire station on Valley Road North is not in the best location or suitable for the long-term use, Whiting said. He hopes to have the ideal location identified within 18 months and a new hall built around 2024.

While the need for a Glenmore fire hall is driven by response times, calls to assist in medical emergencies have dropped since B.C. Ambulance Service changed its call protocols in May. That means, instead of responding to 800 medical emergency calls per month leading up to the change, Kelowna firefighters now respond to about 500 a month.

“Even with the reduction in medical calls, the City of Kelowna fire department is one of the busiest, if not the busiest in B.C., compared to other communities our size, or even compared to larger communities on a population basis,” Whiting said. “The reduction in calls still leaves us well above the provincial average.

There are currently 108 full-time firefighters in Kelowna, with four more coming on next spring and four in 2020, which will bring the total to 116. With administrative staff and inspectors, there are about 130 people working for the department.


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