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Councillors push to improve fire department's response

Media Type: Print
Outlet: Calgary Herald
Author: Brittany Gervais
Published Date: March 14, 2022
Four city councillors are pushing to find ways to bring Calgary Fire Department response times up to national standards. Staffing shortages, combined with an unprecedented demand for service, have led to a mounting strain on the CFD. Canadian national fire standards target a response time of six minutes for medical calls, and six minutes and 20 seconds for fires 90 per cent of the time. Calgary's response time target is seven minutes. Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness, who led a notice of motion being introduced by the councillors, said the report would explore potential costs and timelines to improve fire service in the city. "We ask firefighters to run into burning buildings, but then we're not really listening when they say they need more support," Wyness said. "This is an ask for information and an ask to truly understand the situation our fire department is having to work in." The notice of motion directs administration to compile a report on resources needed to meet national firefighter staffing standards, along with potential timelines and an idea of risks faced by Calgary firefighters. Administration would also compile a funding approach for the 2023-26 budget. Matt Osborne, spokesman for the Calgary Firefighters Association, told council last November the department was "stretched to the breaking point," and called for an additional $10 million in next year's budget to hire 56 firefighters. "With our current staffing levels, it's safer to live in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto than Calgary," Osborne said, pointing to data that suggests the city is not currently meeting the National Fire Protection Agency standard of four firefighters per rescue truck. "Calgary is the lowest-staffed metropolitan fire department in Canada." Council approved the $10-million request last December, which added up to a full percentage point on the tax rate increase. However, fire Chief Steve Dongworth previously told Postmedia the department would advocate for additional funding in the next fouryear budget cycle to continue to address staffing concerns. Along with staffing shortages, Calgary firefighters are responding to more overdose, medical and fire calls across the city. Overdose responses alone rose by 54 per cent between 2020 and 2021. Strains on the EMS system have also led to firefighters staying on such calls for longer, as they wait for medical professionals to arrive. Along with Wyness, the notice of motion is sponsored by Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian and Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean. There's an understanding across council that the city's challenges are building, Mian said, and the motion would provide the first step to addressing issues faced by the fire department. "Public safety and ensuring that our emergency services are appropriately resourced is one of our most core responsibilities in my view," Mian said. "What we're looking for is a path forward. This is not a commitment of resources, but an estimate of what would it take to get us up to that NFPA standard." As the city's population grows, Sharp said council needs to make sure there are enough firefighters to serve Calgarians. "If we wait longer to look at increased funding, or making sure the fire department can hit their target response times, this could be a detriment to our city." The previous city council debated response times in 2018, when some councillors wanted to stretch the city's fire response time from seven to 10 minutes to allow for more suburban growth. At that time, council rejected relaxing the benchmark, while keeping the door open for developers to build in areas that fall outside the targeted response time. The notice of motion will go to the executive committee for review on March 15. If approved, council could consider the motion at the next council meeting on March 29. With files from Dylan Short and Meghan Potkins Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB
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