Like many small fire departments, Sooke Fire Rescue has a chronic understaffing and retention problem.
Now it has a plan of attack: the District of Sooke and Sooke Firefighters Association (SFFA) have agreed on a recruitment and retention program to attract new paid-on-call firefighters and retain those already working.
The program includes boosts in pay and a goal of supporting firefighters and their families.
But will the new agreement solve the problem? Working outside the community, competing interests and family obligations all hamper the ability to attract people to the service, said Fire Chief Ted Ruiter.
“It’s challenging at best. We take on five or six (recruits) then over the course of the calendar year we will lose five or six (firefighters),” he said.
The extra pay will help and Sooke Firefighters’ Association president Paul Sutherland is hopeful for better retention as a result.
Historically, the SFFA received a stipend from the district of $37,799 for the association, firefighter recognition and family support. Now that the district is providing “significant support” through the paid-on-call remuneration policy, the stipend can be reduced to $15,402, a report to council stated.
Those savings can be recognized by reducing operating and maintenance costs for the firefighters’ lounge. The lounge will be taken over by the district, but the fire department will continue to use it.
Sutherland said the agreement is a step forward in the district’s relationship with the firefighters.
“I’m hopeful we can achieve good things together with this new model, but it will take some time,” Ruiter said.
Sooke Fire Rescue has 34 POC and seven career firefighters. The fire department answers about 850 calls per year.