COLWOOD – The Colwood Fire Department has provided Fire Rescue service through a volunteer model for the past 75 years. Now, with volunteerism declining in organizations throughout North America, volunteer fire departments face challenges with respect to volunteer turnout and retention.
Todays volunteer firefighters experience higher pressures with steadily increasing provincial training standards and calls for service, in addition to increasing time constraints of personal, family and work commitments.
In 2021, Colwood Fire responded to 865 calls for service, of which 683 were emergency responses. This is an increase of 29 per cent over the past five years and 68 per cent over the past ten years. The continued rise in response requests is a direct result of community development and growth.
This places Colwood at a critical juncture with respect to how to protect the safety of the community.
As a result of these pressures and demands, the City began exploring options for a paid-on-call system intended to compensate the volunteer firefighters for the services they provide to the City.
Comparative data and analysis of regional fire departments from North Saanich to Sooke and from the Westshore to Qualicum Beach revealed that twelve of the volunteer and composite departments who responded compensate their members for emergency responses.
For 2022, Council has resolved to incorporate volunteer firefighters into a 12-hour paid-on-call night shift rotation (6pm to 6am) as part of a station staffing model. This will provide the City of Colwood with twenty-four-hour emergency response capabilities including a single engine staffed with 4 firefighters.
In 2023, a per-call payment will be introduced to compensate volunteer firefighters for call response when additional staffing is required due to large scale or secondary incidents and when a single engine response is insufficient. Through the introduction of the second phase, the remuneration is intended to further support and compensate firefighter response to improve retention.
In 2024, a training incentive will be introduced for firefighter professional development and educational opportunities that are in addition to on-shift training.
This service model shift will support emergency response times in our rapidly growing Colwood community and West Shore region, help the City attract and retain firefighters and bring Colwood’s Fire Rescue services in line with its Vancouver Island counterparts.