Changes are taking place at Sooke Fire Rescue to meet the demands of community growth. And Fire Chief Kenn Mount says those changes will only make the service stronger.
Starting in July, Sooke Fire Rescue moved from a volunteer model to a paid-on call model for non-career firefighters.
The department is now accepting applications for the positions and Mount says the new system will help attract a different crop of recruits and aid with the retention of firefighters.
“In the past the [volunteer] members were offered a small stipend for their work, depending on how many hours of training they engaged in and how many calls they attended,” Mount said.
“It really was a minimal amount. For a three-hour call out, for example, they might receive a total of $11. That didn’t do much to reflect how much we valued their service.”
The level of compensation for the volunteer corps of the department was based on a budget of about $38,000 per year that was split among all the non-career members for all the calls and training they attended.
“We have been looking for this change for about five years, and I want to acknowledge that council has been supportive of this initiative,” Mount said.
“We certainly have some catching up to do.”
The new system will raise that remuneration and base it on individual contributions, rank and qualifications. In practical terms, it will mean that non-career firefighters will be compensated for somewhere between $15 and $32 an hour with new recruits starting at the lower end of that scale with the ability to move up with additional training and experience.
By the time a non-career firefighter rises to the rank of lieutenant, they could receive compensation at a rate equivalent to 75 per cent of a career counterpart.
In order to accomplish that the compensation budget for the department will rise to $53,000 in 2019 to $99,000 in 2020 and $143,000 in 2022. Those funds would be used to fund the entire non-career component of the department for all the calls and training in which they’re involved.
“I’m responsible for recruiting firefighters this year, and I believe that this will have a positive effect on our recruitment as well as our retention of firefighters,” said Ben Temple, a career firefighter and an executive member of Sooke Fire Fighters Local 4841.
“I’m looking for about 25 to 30 volunteer applicants from which we’ll be selecting about six or seven.”
He added the decision to be an on-call firefighter is one that, due to the time commitment, impacts the family. The new compensation method may help to motivate those families to make that commitment.
“We really value our on-call members. We’re now going to have a chance to demonstrate that appreciation.,” Mount said.