To improve response times and bolster resources, the Calgary Fire Chief has proposed three options to the City Council for consideration for funding later this year.
Fire chief Steve Dongworth told the city executive committee that a record volume of calls, several years of budget cuts and the city’s expansion have all contributed to longer response times.
“It’s not sustainable,” Dongworth said. “The critical number is how long it takes to muster the right number of firefighters and trucks on a severe and escalating fire.”
Firefighters currently respond to fire calls within seven minutes and 40 seconds, 90 percent of the time; This is slower than both its own response time target of seven minutes and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
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The first funding option would be to increase staffing levels from two to four firefighters in existing units at a cost of $29.3 million per year plus $9 million in equity funding.
Second, the conversion of six EMS to air units and the addition of four new air units to the fleet at an annual cost of $14.8 million and $6 million in capital costs.
The third option calls for the construction of two new fire stations at a capital cost of $36 million and an annual cost of $7.6 million.
Together it will cost an estimated $52 million in operating funds, $51 million in capital funds and the addition of 315 firefighters.
A city report estimated that implementing all three options would contribute to a one minute and 15 second improvement in response times for a so-called “effective response team,” or the time it takes to gather 12 firefighters to the scene of a fire.
“Once we’ve got all that done, we see an improvement of 75 seconds,” Dongworth said. “Just by hiring the firefighters, ordering the equipment, finding locations for the stations; this would take four years or more.”
Dongworth said the fire department will present a four-year budget proposal later this year that includes all three options.
“Your Calgary firefighters have been at breaking point for several years,” said Codey McIntyre, president of the Calgary Firefighters Association.
“It is now putting the citizens of Calgary and your firefighters at risk.”
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At Wednesday’s meeting, several council members asked how much of the fire department’s increased call volume was responding to medical calls.
Dongworth said half of the fire department’s calls are “critical medical procedures,” and the number of medical calls has increased 30 to 40 percent in the first five months of this year compared to 2021.
District 14 district. Peter Demong said the situation of firefighters responding to medical calls could be an example of “provincial downloading”.
“We as a city are being tested to say that when emergency responders aren’t doing their job as well as they should, it means the fire department has some of their gap to fill,” Demong told the committee. “The province has had a tremendous impact on our budget by not properly funding their departments.”
After the meeting, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she will ensure the city lobbies the provincial government for a portion of its recently reported $3.9 billion surplus to help fund local emergency services.
“Considering that we’re just picking up the pieces for medical missions and have a budget request from our fire department that should also cover medical missions,” Gondek said. “I think we need to have some pretty real conversations as provincial and local partners.”
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Originally, the city council asked the administration to consider how much it would cost to increase the fire department’s staff and resources to meet NFPA benchmarks.
NFPA standards are not agency standards, but a benchmark for the fire protection industry that includes personnel standards and response time targets of six minutes and 20 seconds for fires.
City officials determined that this “is not a feasible response standard for Calgary” because the fire department’s annual operating budget would need to be increased by $214.5 million – nearly double the current budget.
A city report also noted that it would take between 15 and 20 years to fully implement the NFPA 1710 benchmarks.
Both the City Council and Dongworth suggested that the City Council use these benchmarks as a “desirable guiding document”.
City council will consider the fire department’s proposed options at a meeting scheduled for late July, but will make its funding decisions when it finalizes the next four-year budget during deliberations in November.
Dongworth told reporters the fire department hopes the council will fund “the full range of options” to fill the gap.
“What you’re seeing in the council chambers sounds different because we have more people willing to talk about the fact that we may need to fund services that we have previously cut,” Gondek said.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/8956196/calgary-firefighters-funding-request-improved-response-times/ ‘It’s not sustainable’: Calgary firefighters consider increasing funding to improve response times – Calgary