The volunteer firefighters with the Charlie Lake Fire Department are giving the Peace River Regional District an ultimatum regarding the ongoing fire protection issue.
At the volunteer meeting held Thursday night at the Charlie Lake Fire Department, the volunteers expressed outrage at not knowing what might happen to them or Fire Chief Al Pinkerton after the Charlie Lake/Grandhaven Fire Protection Society is disbanded on March 31, 2012. Under the current management structure, once the Society is disbanded, the volunteers and the fire chief will automatically be laid off.
The volunteers said they were giving the District until April 29, 2011 to show clear decisions are being made about the Department’s future or else they would turn in their pagers. If all the volunteers turn in their pagers, effectively quitting, it would mean there would not be enough firefighters to run the department. Currently, Pinkerton is the only paid member of the Department. He stepped out of the meeting since it was for volunteers only.
Several of the firefighters at the meeting talked about how their positions are all about trust, but said with all the uncertainties, many of them are distracted and are afraid they will not be able to properly conduct their work.
The District will be hiring a consultant to examine different management models, said the District’s Chief Administrative Officer Fred Banham who represented the District at the meeting. Banham said the Request for Proposals has not yet been sent out and it would be unlikely that the District could provide the firefighters with answers by the ultimatum deadline.
He said that the management models could encompass several different possibilities, including having the District take over fire protection in the Charlie Lake area, implementing another society or a completely different model altogether.
Banham said that although he is not one of the decision makers at the District, based on the tone of the meeting he would relay their concerns to the District.
The Department has been struggling recently since it does not have enough volunteer members to cover daytime shifts, raising the possibility of the area being given unprotected status.
The firefighters also talked about how they hope that when the District selects a new management model it will not simply choose the cheapest one, which could mean hiring people with less experience, potentially putting people’s lives at risk. One firefighter underlined that sentiment saying “the fire hall has no room for error.”
Back on Feb. 24, Charlie Lake Fire Chief Al Pinkerton and the Society’s President Doug Allen, presented a proposed budget of $705,509, a 53 per cent increase over the 2010 budget, with $512,500 going towards the Department and the rest towards the District for administrative and insurance costs. Most of the extra funds requested by the department were meant to help cover the cost of hiring two full-time staff members, helping alleviate the problems associated with the current lack of available daytime volunteers.
On Thursday, the District voted 7-5 to approve a $475,311 budget, less than $3,000 more than the 2010 budget. That funding is being split with $330,302 going to the Department and the rest to the District for administrative and insurance costs. Thus, the Department saw a $182,198 decrease from what they requested, essentially the cost of hiring the two additional staff firefighters.
Regional District Chair Karen Goodings says the board had decided to lower the Department’s final budget as it did not feel the extra money was necessary to hire staff members since the management structure will be changing next year anyway.