The Calgary Fire Department is hoping city council will bump up its budget to help relieve the stresses of the pandemic of an ever-growing city. The firefighters’ association agrees that more firefighters are needed in Calgary.
“With current staffing levels, it’s safer to live in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto than Calgary,” Matt Osborne of the Calgary Firefighters Association told council, noting the city has the lowest-staffed metropolitan fire department in the country.
The comments were made during deliberations on changes to the 2022 city budget.
Osborne said the fire department’s budget has been cut by more than $35 million since 2015, adding five trucks were pulled from service in July 2019 and a fall 2020 recruiting class was cancelled.
The firefighters’ association said that Calgary does not currently meet the National Fire Protection Agency minimum standard for staffing requirements, also known as NFPA 1710. When applied to Calgary’s context, those standards would have four crew members per engine truck, ladder truck and rescue truck, while also being able to respond within seven minutes of a call.
The Calgary Fire Department currently only staffs two crew on ladder and rescue trucks.
Osborne also outlined how CFD members are also tasked with responding to severe medical emergencies, water rescue, hazardous material response, rescue of people in compromised structures, flood and frozen pipe response, in addition to fighting fires.
“We also do cats in the tree,” Osborne noted.
As part of the budget deliberations, city officials are requesting $10 million be added to the city’s budget for 56 new firefighters and six new training officers.
If council approves the request holus bolus, that could result in a 0.58 per cent increase in the tax rate, or about $0.92 per month for a typical single-residential home.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the problem of funding a fire department in an expanding city is one she’d tried to work on with the previous city council and will work on during this term.
“The work the fire department does is critical to the safety of Calgarians and we have to ensure we’re funding them properly,” Gondek said.
“I think for the Calgary Fire Department in particular, the work they do has evolved and changed over time and I don’t think the way we evaluate them in the budget has kept pace,” the mayor added. “There seems to be a disparity between fire and police in terms of representation and that’s something we need to talk about.”
Osborne brought up exploring the idea of a fire commission, despite it not being legislated like the police commission.
“Is that the answer? It could possibly address a few things, but that’s a part of the discussion we really want to promote to happen … in order to look at how can we more efficiently structure (the fire department) in order to make sure that you have the information at your fingertips and understand what’s happening,” the firefighters’ association spokesperson said.
We are hearing from @cgyfirefighters today about the concerns with fire dept resources. There is a disconnect because the chief reports to a general manager, who reports to the city manager. There's too much red tape. I would like the fire chief to report directly to Council.
— Sonya Sharp (@SonyaSharpYYC) November 22, 2021
The mayor said having a commission to both advocate on behalf of and guide the fire department could help, especially given the increased first-response responsibilities the fire department has taken on.
“One of the most disappointing things is not having a direct line to the fire chief and being able to ask some of those tough questions and having an advocacy body,” Gondek added.
The firefighters’ comments seeking more funding were echoed by the president of CUPE Local 38, representing City of Calgary administrative and technical staff.
“We have seen satisfaction with city programs and services are at 68 per cent (in the latest citizen survey), which is good but it is declining. And we believe it is declining because Calgarians need more support and services,” D’Arcy Lanovaz said. “However, it’s important to note that a majority of Calgarians also see a value for their tax dollars and simply a majority of Calgarians favor a tax increase versus service cuts.”
Alex Chevalier of the Calgary and District Labour Council also urged council to spend more on city services.
“You need to reinvest in the city again. This budget does not factor for growth,” Chevalier said. “And I think this last election has demonstrated that this is what Calgarians want: they want a council that’s willing to reinvest back into the city.”
Calgary city council is also considering a $6-million ask from the Calgary Police Service for 38 new positions it says are needed given increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic, more protests and demonstrations, investigation requirements and low morale.
This week is earmarked for council to complete its budget deliberations. The original recommendations from city officials would see city expenditures increase by $11 million, representing at 0.64 per cent tax rate increase or about $1 a month more for a typical single-detached homeowner.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.