In an effort to catch up with changing times, the Gibsons and District volunteer fire department is asking the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) to approve a hefty budget increase for 2013.
The department’s draft strategic plan would pay honorariums to volunteer officers, increasing the department’s budget by almost $100,000, or about 15 to 20 per cent, Fire Chief Bob Stevens said.
The proposed changes are designed to help recruit and retain volunteers and to reflect the higher training standards that are required of firefighters today, Stevens said.
“Times are changing, and we have to change with them, unfortunately,” he said.
Under the draft plan, annual honorariums would be paid to the training officer ($12,000), deputy chief ($8,000), four captains ($6,000 each), three lieutenants ($4,000 each) and safety officer ($6,000).
In return, the officers would take on the added responsibility of performing basic fire inspections on public buildings while they are on duty.
As well, the rate of pay for practices and training sessions would increase from $20 to $25 for a two-hour evening session, and from $70 to $90 for a full day of training.
Stevens said the plan was developed in part by comparing the Gibsons department with its Sechelt counterpart, which employs two additional full-time staff.
“We’re using honorariums instead of salaries,” he said.
The draft plan received strong endorsement by Gibsons council last month.
“What we have now is a very valuable service that we get at a very low cost,” said Coun. Gerry Tretick, who sits on the fire commission. “If we look at our peers on the Coast — Gibsons versus Sechelt — we’re falling behind, because they don’t have the same resources as Sechelt has. It’s a case of being realistic with what you can ask of volunteers.”
While there appears to be political will to adopt the new plan, Stevens said he won’t count on anything until after the SCRD budget process is completed.
“Once the budget’s done — come March, April — we’ll know what we’re likely to get,” he said.
The department currently has 37 members, including seven recruits now going through basic training.
“If they all go through, we’ll be sitting not too bad. We’ll need a few more to get our full complement,” Stevens said.
The full complement for the department is 40, but that number will rise to 45 within the next five years under the draft plan.