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West Kelowna giving major boost to fire department

West Kelowna Fire Rescue is getting eight more firefighters in 2019.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/West Kelowna Fire Rescue
January 15, 2019 - 3:48 PM

KELOWNA - Eight new firefighters are going to join West Kelowna Fire Rescue as soon as they can be recruited and trained.

This will bring the department up to 40 full-time firefighters so the department can meet safety standards by having four-person crews at both its fire halls at all times.

“This is all about the safety and health of our firefighters,” fire chief Jason Brolund told West Kelowna council during budget discussions today, Jan. 15. “But it’s also about the safety and health of our community.”

On the firefighter side, it is unusual to have only three firefighters at a fire hall, as is the case at the Lakeview Heights fire hall. Most halls, like the Westbank firehall, have a minimum of four firefighters at all times, he explained.

On the public safety side, fire crews cannot attack a fire with a three-person crew. A minimum of four is needed. That means, crews from Lakeview Heights cannot attack a fire until the Westbank crew shows up.

“We had just that case earlier on,” Brolund said. “Fortunately a shift change was just happening so a firefighter was able to jump on the truck and they were able to evacuate people and save lives.”

Current staffing levels mean huge overtime costs each year when firefighters are working extra shifts and even come in from vacation. They are required to have four hours off in each shift cycle but rarely get all four. That has meant an increase in sickness, injuries and WorkSafe B.C. claims.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the increase, which will cost more than $250,000 this year and more than double that for a full year in 2020.

Council is considering a tax increase of about five per cent for 2019.

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