Penticton Fire Department. (Western News file photo)

Penticton councillor wants to speed up hiring 4 firefighters

‘I really believe this is a priority’: Penticton Coun. Campbell Watt

One of Penticton’s city councillors doesn’t want to wait until budget deliberations to start the process of getting more firefighters.

Coun. Campbell Watt announced at the end of the Tuesday, Dec. 6’s meeting, a notice of motion for their next meeting that would speed up the process of hiring four additional firefighters to meet the growing demand on their time and energy.

“It would be safe to say that safety and security, crime, etc. is going to be one of our highest priorities,” said Watt on Thursday. “Knowing the firefighters have been trying to get this together and knowing that they quite frankly are dealing with so much on their plate now, we have a full-on game plan where we can get to the full complement of firefighters. I’m just trying to expedite it.”

READ MORE: Penticton firefighters understaffed and facing burnout: Union.

Watt echoed the concerns shared earlier in the year by Curtis Gibbons, the head of the Penticton branch of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

“We need better funding, and we need it sooner than later because it’s wearing on the guys and they’re burning out,” said Gibbons in September.

The four additional firefighters, which are currently scheduled to be hired over the next several years, would bring the department up to 37 in 2023 and up to a contingent of 40 by 2026.

An immediate roster of 40 would allow for four person crews on an engine, which would enable firefighters to immediately enter a building where a fire has erupted without having to wait for a second engine.

Though the exact details of Watt’s motion are still being finalized, he did say that he plans to to ask for the funding for the additional firefighters be pulled from the city’s surplus, in order to avoid increasing the cost to taxpayers.

“This is not necessarily an impact to the budget, because if you take it out of the surplus you’re not actually having to put it in as a line item,” said Watt.

According to Watt, the city is expecting around an $8 million surplus, from which the $900,000 could be pulled for the four firefighters in 2023.

The draw on the surplus would further decrease each year, as the hiring of additional firefighters was built into the five-year plan by the previous council.

It’s an uncharacteristic move from the councillor, who rarely makes notices of motion. So far the current council has seen a notice brought forward at each of their meetings since they were inaugurated. Watt expressed that he didn’t want the firefighters to wait until budget deliberations in 2023 or to risk his idea being lost by the time the deliberations start.

“I really believe this is a priority,” said Watt. “I don’t do this, you know, I’m a very process and policy-driven guy, and this might be my third notice in eight years and I’m making it because I believe so much in it.”

The notice of motion will be discussed towards the end of the Dec. 20 meeting of Penticton council.

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