VERNON, B.C. – A Vernon fire captain shouts to a by-stander, “Hey you! Give him a hand”.
His desperation was caught on amateur video Saturday, while he fought an intense house fire Saturday in the North Okanagan town.
The incident is tripping off alarm bells for the fire fighters union.
“It puts us at a huge risk, obviously and obviously the public at a huge risk as well,” says Brent Bond, president of the Vernon Professional Fire Fighters Association.
The fire chief was forced to change the response model in November due to budget constraints, sending two instead of four firefighters to the scene of an incident and having volunteer fire fighters respond to help.
“Those are just some of our realities currently we try to do the best we can with the resources we’re given,” says Chief Keith Green.
It was Green who implemented the four fire fighter response model three years ago when he took over the job as chief, hoping to better respond to incidents.
“I would always expect and would want four people on a piece of apparatus, however there are times when we have to make tough decisions and that’s one of the tough decisions I had to make,” says Green.
The union is hoping the recent crisis of having to ask the public for help highlights the desperate need to change.
“This puts the captain in a absolute terrible position,” says Bond. “Where initial reports were there’s people possibly stuck inside, and it goes against all WorkSafe BC rules. It also increases the hazardous situation for us, the hazardous situation for the public and also increases the liability to the city greatly.”
Vernon City Council ultimately dictates services levels for fire response, budgeting $4.8 million for the department this year.
Deputy Mayor Juliette Cunningham says so far, the new service model has not generated complaints to her.
“Our combined fire fighting and police budgets are they make up a third of our budget, so we believe in safety for our community and we’re trying to invest to a level that we believe our tax payers can support,” says Cunningham.
Cunningham acknowledged the incident on Saturday has raised questions and expects the fire chief will file a report to council for next week.
Green is preparing a report on fire service levels and response times for council that will be delivered in August.
Green says his crews make him proud, even when they have to ask for public help.
“I watched the video,” says Green. “They did the best they could with the resources they had and very proud of our guys, they work hard and train hard and sometimes we lose those battles, in particular incidences but we save equally more.”
On asking the public for help, Green says, “We don’t like to do that, but we’re fortunate to have people there that were ready to pull a hose and help us out. It’s not ideal, but it’s sometimes what you ask of your residents when you’re in a crisis.”
The house fire in the 2800 block of 35th Street was initially deemed not to be suspicious, but the investigation has been reopened following the release of the video on YouTube.