SATURNA ISLAND FIRE PROTECTION SOCIETY
The Facts on Benefits for Our Volunteers
Much misunderstanding exists with respect to SIFPS and volunteer benefits and I would like to set the record straight.
Let’s start with what the volunteers currently have in benefits that are paid for by SIFPS
While on duty everyone, firefighters (SIVFD) and Saturna Island Rescue (SIR) volunteers, is covered by WorkSafe, which provides a compensation of 90% of average net earnings from employment in the event of an injury.
Further, SIFPS carries an Accident & Sickness (A&S) insurance that provides additional compensation for injury; loss of life benefits (let’s hope we never have to claim that one) and medical and transportation expenses. The list of benefits is too long to repeat here, but a full description can be found on SIFPS website. Each volunteer is automatically provided coverage while on duty.
But the A&S insurance is so much more. Volunteers can choose to extend the insurance to cover them while off duty and to their family members. All they need to do is to sign up and SIFPS pays the additional premium. This means that should the volunteer (or a family member) be injured while on their usual job or on holidays, the insurance kicks in. This is a little known benefit that provides a significant level of protection from economic hardship should an accident or disability happen to the volunteer or a family member.
What SIFPS volunteers have not had in the past, and which other fire departments offer, is some form of cash compensation. Pender, North & South Galiano, and Mayne fire departments all pay a stipend for training, some of them also pay for call outs. It has been reported that all other islands provide medical/dental benefits, which is false. Only Mayne fire department provides medical/dental benefits for which they pay 50% of the premium and the volunteer pays the rest.
The idea of providing some form of medical benefits is not new. In the fall of 2012, I presented medical/dental benefits options to the Board. After deliberations the Board decided on March 16, 2013 to postpone any discussion of benefits until the mortgages were paid off (est. 2016) .
In spring of 2014, the then SIFPS Board again floated the idea of benefits and the minutes from the May 24th meeting shows that they planned on presenting a written proposal on benefits at the AGM in June with a cost of $15,000. However, at the AGM no written proposal was presented, but the membership voted in favour of continuing exploring benefits options and to consult with the volunteers.
The new Board’s HR Committee was tasked in July with coming up with a range of options. As a member of the HR Committee I requested the information the previous Board had gathered and found that no written information existed (we were provided a contact name and q 20-minute verbal presentation). Starting from scratch, I and Priscilla Haggar spent approximately 50 hours researching, analyzing and drafting a presentation on benefits. (See “Reports and Minutes” on SIFPS website).
Four options were presented in September: two were chosen by the Board to be taken to the volunteers for consultation – Health Spending Account and Compensation for Training/Call Outs. The volunteers chose the HSA. At its November meeting, the Board approved to set aside $20,000 for benefits, that the benefits will begin on January 1, 2015 and that they will encompass both SIVFD and SIR.
So that is where SIFPS is today. The following are the outstanding items the Board is working on:
- Select a third-party administrator for the HSA (this is for privacy reasons we cannot have Board members administer medical expenses). The cost of a third-party administrator is generally 10% of claims.
- Hear from the volunteers what eligibility and performance criteria they’d like to see and that will guide in setting up the benefit program.
- Determine how to fund the three volunteers that are strictly SIR. This is an issue because SIR volunteers, considered to work in the area of health, are currently not allowed to be funded from the SIFPS tax monies. Two options are being explored: approach Island Health to increase the current grant; and make the SIR volunteers into auxiliary fire fighters to be able to pay for their benefits out of tax revenues. Whichever option is pursued, we have to ensure SIR doesn’t lose the $10,000 Island Health grant.
The facts show that the SIFPS Board recognizes the importance of its volunteers and value their opinions; that the decisions the Board enters into are well researched to ensure long-term stability and sustainability; and that they are fiscally responsible.
If you have further questions on benefits, contact me and I will be pleased to help.
 This decision was made in-camera and the minutes were released by the Board on September 20, 2014 and can be viewed on SIFPS website sifps.ca: see Reports and Minutes, September 20, 2014
AN UPDATE – October 2014
Since the election of the new Board in June 2014, things are moving forward with the Saturna Island Fire Protection Society. The current Board of nine Directors has taken a few months to get up to speed and become familiar with the business of the Board. With several new volunteer directors on a learning curve, this is a reasonable expectation.
SIFPS this year received about $202,000 from the tax levy against Saturna properties. This figure has been generally consistent for the last 4-5 years. From a budget standpoint about $90,000 to $100,000 is needed for the annual operation of the volunteer service. Example is a $7500.00 recent charge to renew licences and insurance for our seven vehicles. Other expenses against the operating budget include equipment purchases, volunteer training, insurances, hydro, and telephone services, the chief’s stipend and contractor services for accounting, minute recording, cleaning and landscape maintenance.
When the two buildings were constructed in 2010 – 2011 the Board through referendum had permission to borrow up to $700,000 to assist with construction costs and mortgaging. The Board has been servicing the mortgage at approximately $60,000 per year and at this writing there is approximately $70,000 remaining on the mortgage. All of this has been done within the annual tax revenue available to the Society. The balance of the budget approximately $40000 – $50,000 has been used for capital purchases/reserves; mainly the replacement of aging fire trucks. The operations subcommittee of the Board has completed a recent 10 year capital forecast and concluded that about $300,000 will be required over the next 10 years to replace fleet vehicles. This averages about $30,000 per year. Recently $50,000 of the above $300,000 has been allocated to replace our 1980 GMC rescue van and an active search is ongoing. These vehicles are expensive and the reserved amount will allow the Society to purchase a used vehicle suitable for use on Saturna.
There has been a lot of interest around the issue of medical and dental benefits for the volunteers; both firefighters and Saturna Island Rescue personnel. Our Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of a number of options and with feedback from the firefighter and SIR volunteers a preferred option has been identified. Implementation of a benefits program will require that appropriate funding be put in place by the Board to support the program. Under the SIFPS terms of reference for expenditures, taxpayer revenue cannot be used to support Saturna Island Rescue (SIR) and an alternate source of funding to support SIR volunteer benefits needs to be identified. A funding commitment by the Board is expected to be addressed at the next Board meeting on November 8th. While we have an idea of the broader cost of the program, details as to what each volunteer receives and how do they qualify is still being reviewed. This broader cost can be managed within the available budget of the Society.
As President of the Society I would like to assure the public’s confidence. We have a competent and dedicated group of Board members committed to providing a quality level of support and service to the volunteers who provide fire protection services and to Saturna Island Rescue who provide emergency medical treatment for islanders.
Wayne Quinn, President
Saturna Island Fire Protection Society