Last month Whistler firefighter John Cipolla was in Vancouver on a two-week training course, leaving only three firefighters on duty during his shift at the fire hall.
Had that shift been called to the scene of a house fire during that time, Workers Compensation Board regulations stipulate that they would have had to stand outside watching the flames grow, until a fourth firefighter arrived on scene.
"That is the dilemma that we face," said Cipolla, a career firefighter for the past six years.
"If I go to a fire in Tapley’s Farm and there’s people in the house... we won’t be able to go inside because we need four firefighters.
"But, we’re not going to wait for that. So we’re in the position that we’re going to have to make that call."
Fewer Whistler firefighters will be faced with that potential dilemma since council approved hiring two new firefighters by July 2005.
According to the draft five-year financial plan, the first firefighter will be hired in July 2004, followed by a second firefighter the following year.
By then, each shift at the fire hall will have at least four firefighters on duty at all times, allowing them to immediately enter a burning building once they get on site.
Fire Chief Bruce Hall requested the two additional firefighters in the fall as part of the supplemental budget.
"It’s extremely important in the sense that it increases the service level that we’re able to provide the residents and guests of Whistler," said Hall.
"It would be a heck of a dilemma for them (to wait outside or go in short-handed) to say the least."
The first draft of the budget had Hall’s request pushed back to 2005-2006.
That’s when the local firefighters union decided it needed to lobby council.
"It’s a life safety issue, not only for the firefighters but for the community," said Cipolla, president of the Whistler Professional Firefighters Association.
"I really think the council did a fantastic job. When they were given the information and they realized how important the issue was, they stood up and did what they needed to do."
Cipolla explained that currently there are 14 career firefighters in Whistler. Each firefighter is assigned to one of four shifts at the fire hall. That means two shifts are made up of four firefighters, with the remaining two shifts made up of three firefighters.
Each shift also has an assistant fire chief.
The problems arise when members of the smaller crews go on holiday or on courses, as Cipolla did last month, leaving behind a total crew of three.