Kelowna’s rapid growth likely to create rapid increase in firefighting costs | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna’s rapid growth likely to create rapid increase in firefighting costs

FILE PHOTO - A Kelowna fire truck

The recent fire in the Brooklyn highrise in downtown Kelowna showed how thin firefighting forces are in the city.

Most (16 or 17) of the 23 members on duty at the time responded to the early morning fire, leaving few bodies available if another fire had broken out.

READ MORE: How Kelowna firefighters handled rare highrise fire last weekend

That’s not due to the fact that the fire was in a highrise. It was minor and out before firefighters arrived. That meant fire crews could have been redeployed to other fires if needed.

But the same size of crew responds to most structure fires in the city, creating the same balancing act roughly 10 times a month when crews are called to such fires.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends 43 people respond to highrise fires, Jason Picklyk, president of Kelowna Professional Firefighters Association, Local 953, told

READ MORE: Kelowna highrise fire shows need to double firefighters: union president

While he expressed some concern about the city not seeming to have a plan to grow its firefighting numbers, Fire Chief Travis Whiting told that he’s looking at making changes.

“We do need to continue to grow to keep pace with the city,” he said.

The last big boost to staffing levels – 20 firefighters – was in 2018 when the Glenmore fire hall became the city’s fifth “career” fire station – meaning it is now staffed by full-time professional firefighters.

“Since 2018, we’ve added a number of positions in the department, in suppression as well as in other areas,” Whiting said, adding that it won’t take a sixth hall before he asks for more firefighters.

“Right now, the hall locations aren’t a limiting factor for staff,” he said. “If we bring on more staff, we can accommodate them in some of our current halls and use them in different ways.”

Council was given a heads up when they debated the 2022 budget. It included an item asking them to put aside $250,000 a year, starting in 2023, for more firefighting staff.

“Kelowna Fire Department is developing a long term financial strategy to support aligning city growth with maintaining public safety service levels,” that request said. “Further work on updates to the Kelowna Fire Department’s Strategic Plan will be brought forward in 2022, part of which will focus on sustainable investments in capital and personnel resources.”

It goes on to suggest that regular annual increases will be needed to cope with a growing population.

The fire department’s current strategic plan was adopted in 2016 and has a time frame reaching to 2030. It focused a lot of attention on bringing the Glenmore fire hall on board.

Since then, Kelowna has been one of the fastest growing cities in the country and added 17,000 residents just during the 2016-21 census period, along with a number of new highrises.

READ MORE: iN PHOTOS: More than 500 storeys of new highrises in pipeline for downtown Kelowna

“As we grow, we will need to look to look towards additional halls in the future,” Whiting said. “Part of the work we’ll do over the next couple of years will be to really identify where those will be. But we’re not going to hold off staffing until we have more halls. We’re going to continue to try to grow our staffing.”

The next fire hall would serve the KLO/Gordon/Pandosy area, which is seeing rapid growth with a number of highrises in the works.

While it’s not clear when or how many more firefighters will be hired, it is clear that it will be expenses.

It costs about $23.5 million to operate the existing fire department each year, $19.4 million of which is for wages.

The department has 140 firefighters and four managers, most of whom made more than $75,000 in 2021.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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