KELOWNA – The president of the local firefighters union says persistent understaffing is putting local firefighters and residents at risk.
“We have great guys on duty all the time, we have great training, the problem is guys try to do too much with too little,” Kelowna Professional Firefighters Association president Mike Hill says.
“You need the guys on scene in the first 20 minutes for sure and to do that you need guys on duty at the station ready to go.”
Kelowna currently keeps 19 firefighters on active duty across four stations. He says National Fire Protection Association standards shows a city like Kelowna should have between 27 and 29.
“Kamloops has a smaller population but five full time stations and more guys than we do,” Hill says. “We need more resources in the City of Kelowna.”
Last year council voted to open a fifth hall in Glenmore, which would bring the number of active on duty to 23. Hill says that’s as far as it went.
“It was approved last May, but when it came to the December budget they decided they weren’t going to have that hall in Glenmore. It’s a geographic location that needs a fire station.”
A station, Hill says, as well as a dozen more firefighters are badly needed as highlighted by the Truswell Road condo fire July 8.
The fire started in a building under construction but spread so quickly the first four firefighters on scene became trapped on a balcony. Firefighter Chris Zimmermann received second- and third-degree burns before a ladder truck came to their rescue.
“You need manpower for the initial attack,” Hill says. “We didn’t have enough people to knock the fire down as fast as we could have.”
Hill is concerned members of his union have to occasionally put themselves at risk unnecessarily, simply because resources are stretched so thin.
“Two guys went down with heat exhaustion on Saturday,” he says. “They worked themselves to complete exhaustion.”
During Monday’s regular session, Kelowna City Councillor Mohini Singh expressed her thanks to the firefighters who fought the blaze and wishes for a quick recovery to Zimmermann.
Zimmermann is the son of former Fire Chief and Councillor Gerry Zimmerman.
“Three of them found themselves in a terrible situation,” Singh said. “They got stuck on a balcony and they were fighting the fire right to the bitter end. It was a very, very hard day. (Chris Zimmermann) made sure his colleagues got off (the balcony) and continued to put himself between the flames and his colleagues.”
Hill says he remains in hospital but will not need to be transferred to Vancouver for treatment.
“He’s in good spirits. He has feeling in his hands, movement in his hands,” he says. “he’s doing well.”
To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 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.
We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.