Mayor Wendal Milne said he was holding out an olive branch to the volunteer firefighters in recommending a stipend for volunteer firefighters. Council approved the inclusion of $25,000 in the 2014-2018 Five Year Financial Plan.
Ben Temple, speaking for the Sooke Firefighters Association, (SFA) had come before council and stated the firefighters association declined the offer stating they wanted a better solution to being recognized. He said recognition, recruitment and retention were different things.
The stipend would be $500 for each volunteer who meets the minimum training standard of 66 per cent of the approximately 100 annual training hours; the remaining $500 will be paid to each volunteer based on the number of fire related calls attended to a maximum of $500; volunteers may opt for the tax credit or the stipend.
The district has increased the annual stipend paid the volunteer association from $30,000 annually to $37,038 for the fiscal year 2014. In addition, volunteers may choose the option of performing 200 hours of fire fighting service which gives them a 15 per cent refundable tax credit on $3,000 for tax savings of $450. First responders are not part of this issue.
Coun. Tait said she thought they were throwing money at a problem.
“We are a volunteer community and have been for a long time. I do not support this recommendation.”
Coun. Haldane said they were not expecting to fix anything by doing this.
“It’s not what they are worth but it’s something,” said Haldane.
“I think it comes from the heart,” said Coun. Kevin Pearson. “Maybe this is step one of ongoing discussions.”
Council will review the stipend process after one year including the inclusion of the support services personnel for a stipend or not.
“This is a blueprint for the future,” said Mayor Milne.
A survey was conducted among the members of the SFA in 2013 and 75 per cent of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that financial compensation was a key driver for firefighter retention. Many were looking at the training received through volunteering for the fire department as a stepping stone to a fire department career.
In 2013, the number of volunteer firefighters who met the minimum training hours was 17 out of 35. Seven of the 35 were support services volunteers who do not attend fire-related calls. Volunteers attended a total of 2,224.5 hours. The volunteers received $8,500 in training compensation, $6,500 in fire-related call compensation. Total man responses was 612.
There are currently five career staff fire fighters including the fire chief, deputy, training officer and two fire fighters with 22 volunteers and recruits in Station 1 and 11 in Station 2 including the Sun River Muster Station. Support services has 10 volunteers bringing the Sooke total to 48.