Fire department budget could mean current resources stretched to new Calgary stations

The Calgary Fire Department responds to tens of thousands of calls annually. CITY OF CALGARY WEBSITE

A Calgary firefighter recruit class was held off this fall as continued uncertainty looms over city budgets.

That could leave upcoming temporary fire hall builds in a lurch as firefighter ranks are stretched to cover stations in Livingston (north Calgary) and Belvedere (east Calgary).

“We have concerns, when they get to opening these, where are they going to get the firefighters from?” said Matt Osborne, the spokesperson and Vice-President of the Calgary Firefighters Association. (CFA)

“We don’t have enough firefighters in fire halls right now.”

Recently, city administration decided against the closure of Fire Station 6 in the Eau Claire area. Those firefighters were going to the Livingston Station. Those firefighters will now stay.

During the budget adjustment in November of 2019, the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) deferred a $3.4 million temporary fire station planned for Livingston (north Calgary) to 2021.

That station is supposed to open early next year.

There were also capital plans for temporary fire and emergency response stations in Belvedere (east Calgary) for $2 million, and for south Shepard for $2 million.

But concerns about filling those halls are growing.

Already understaffed

Osborne said the CFD is already the lowest staffed metropolitan fire department in Canada.

Ideally, a full fire station houses up to 20 fire fighters to cover for the different rotations.

Osborne said firetrucks are supposed to be run with four people in them, but the CFD sometimes runs them with only two.

“When we find a fire, that takes multiple fire trucks and multiple firefighters to go and do that work,” said Osborne.

“So then when another emergency happens at the same time, it just continues…that’s the point of having enough firefighters.”

Osborne said he’s concerned about the budget and that a depleted fire department will not be sufficient enough to serve a growing city.

Plans to fill the halls

LiveWire reached out to the City of Calgary asking them to confirm that the new stations will be opened as planned. We also asked if they have plans to staff them since the recruit class was cancelled.

They didn’t answer these specific questions. Instead they provided this statement:

“The City is actively progressing the SAVE program, which has been directed to achieve $24 million in savings in 2021 and $50 million in 2022 in order to deliver modern and affordable municipal lines of service within our City mandate. The program is developing a business case to review Fire and Emergency Response Resourcing. Analysis is ongoing and, once it is complete, Administration will consider whether to make any recommendations to Council next year regarding changes,” read the statement attributed to Carla Male, Chief Financial Officer.

22 Comments

  1. I’ve got a grand idea, cut back their salaries so you have enough to cover all the halls with fire fighters. When most of these fire fighters are “working” about 1hr out of every 24hr shift and only 2 days every 8, we really shouldn’t be paying them 6 figure salaries and close to 2mil pensions to play pickle ball, sleep well, eat well, and work on their second jobs at the fire hall on my dime! Too many people are out of work or risking Covid exposure for low wages while fire fighters now do even less than before Covid arrived. Parked on the side of the road watching paramedics and police officers work shouldn’t be considered helping the community…..

    • Hi Josh,

      As a member of a local fire department, I see the hard work and dedication EMS workers are doing and always have done for our communities. I would never diminish your service and am proud to work along side EMS members. Times are tough for all city departments right now and I strongly advocate for better funding for both our organizations. The changes in your service are leading to longer response times that we are on scene without your valued resources. But, I’m sure you can agree having EMRs on scene in less than 7 minutes is vital in a personal health crisis. If it was you’re family member, I’m certain you’d want us on the call, especially when you could be dispatched from 20 mins away.

      I’d also like to share an interesting piece of data. If what you are claiming is true about us, that all we do is play pickle ball and sleep. Why is it that we have a 10-15 year lower life expectancy? (see reference below) I’m hoping not to be part of that statistic, but there’s a reason our list of living pensioners isn’t a long one. I think you might be missing a huge part of what we actually do.

      http://futurefirefighters.org/health-and-life-expectancy-of-firefighters/

      You have a difficult job Josh and likely less resources to help when the stress builds up. Luckily we have a strong base of people to talk to and our department strives to help before we reach our breaking point. I’ve seen you posts here before and you are clearly are angry. You and your service to the community are too valuable. I hope you reach out as we Fire fighters are on your side.

      • I do agree with some of what you stated. However, there are very few instances where a medical crisis can be appropriately managed by an emr. My family knows unless it’s a cardiac arrest, ask the fire fighters to wait at the door and wait for the medical professionals. Like I’ve stated before, cardiac arrests, you are helpful as you have an aed and many sets of hands to initiate CPR. However, the majority of ems calls are not Cardiac Arrests, they are mostly medical in nature and unfortunately the very limited medical training of the fire dept is of little help. Its called the stare of life for a reason! If you all truly care for the community and about your colleagues in ems, why is it I don’t hear fire fighters standing up to their chiefs? For over 2 years your chiefs have mandated no assistance to paramedics for lifts, not even when the patient is life threateningly ill. Ask paramedics, that is the single greatest use for you all on medical calls, and i mean no insult, its just a reality. Or lobbying to assist on calls instead of parking on the street with the lights on waiting for ems to arrive or cancel you? Not assisting on calls as covid is dangerous and too risky for fire fighters to be exposed to is an interesting philosophy. I would believe your team mantra if your actions matched it. Instead you are typically more than happy to seek out recognition from the public and peddle your lies while the Police Dept and Ems work through the night….Stand up, speak out and actually help! Then I’ll believe we’re a team!

  2. Cut those ambulance drivers pay is what I say! 99% of the time they’re glorified taxi drivers and 1% of the time saving lives. Most their shift is spent sitting in the hallway of the emerg … apparently on livewirecalgary, upset about their career choice

  3. Thank you for your honest response Josh.
    Let me first say, without question EMS has taken the brunt of the Covid response. If I knew who you were, I’d look you in the eyes and tell you, I couldn’t do your job. I literally moved from a hall that was mostly medical calls, because it was starting to overwhelm me. You don’t have that option. I empathize with you.
    Your department is under funded, your pensions and benefits are literally a joke. Your department deserves much better and we have your back.
    Addressing one of your points, do we have a few shifts that we haven’t earned our salary? I’ve had a few shifts that have improved my pickle ball game. I’m not embarrassed to admit it.
    But, you have no idea what the other nights are like. I can empathize with your career path. I’d like you to think about ours. How many mornings can you smell toxic odors coming off your skin in the shower? I don’t mean after the first day off, I’m talking about the third! Have you grabbed a humans arm in a fire and felt the skin slip off? How about, heard your low air alarm go off and wonder if you can get to the exit? These are just some of my experiences. I could give you hundreds of examples of the s@&t we do in our career that justify the salary and benefits we deserve. I wonder if anyone knows, we are the lowest paid department in all of Alberta? I love my job, I don’t need thanks for it. I get paid and compensation for it. But, there’s a wager to it. Will I be the person who dies 3 years after retirement of brain cancer? Or I be the one that makes it to the average? I’m not sensationalizing Josh, those are the statistics. Don’t pretend you know what we live because you see us 20 mins of our shift.

    Here’s the difference, I know enough about your career to never publicly disrespect it. In fact, I admire your service and will publicly advocate for you. Your department is over worked, underpaid and you see some things I know keep you up at night. It’s likely part of the reason you are publicly lashing out. Sadly in the wrong direction. But, I understand.

    To your point, its rare we go to cardiac arrests and have the outcome we we want, but here is my experience. In my career, I’ve done 8 successful codes without EMS on scene, I’ve delivered a baby, without EMS on scene and hundreds of other calls we’ve made a huge difference without EMS on scene. Guess what Josh, when it comes to medical calls, you are better at it! There isn’t one call I’m not happy to see you roll up on. You deserve more funding. You deserve more compensation. I get your frustration. But we are getting cut too. We are running thin. We are also wondering what our future looks like.
    There’s soo much I could share with you in a less public forum if I knew who you were. But, till that happens, I’ll ask you stop trashing us in a public forum. It’s not helping you, your department, our department and certainly not the the people that need a better funded emergency service. Let’s do some easy math, if crews I’ve been on have saved 8 lives just doing CPR without EMS, we have 4 shifts and 43 halls… I think you get the point. We have value and you certainly do too. Our success rate is much better when we both arrive in less than 7 mins. Let’s fight for that.

    Thanks again for your service and please reach out if you’re lacking support.

  4. Thankyou for you heartfelt response and can definitely appreciate where you are coming from. I won’t play the game of arguing the severity of calls seen as the public does not need to hear. And you forget, the people tasked with making critical interventions for these seriously ill and injured patients are paramedics. We are the people that have to separate emotion from the task at hand, making these decisions in a timely fashion, while managing a scene, directing fire and cps when it relates to patients, determining needed incoming resources etc. Then being held accountable to emergency physicians for all treatment initiated and not performed.

    Wow, the stats are not great in retirement for firefighters, definitely concerning. I will mention my ems relateable stat. The average career length of a paramedic was 5 years in an urban center, and that stat is over 10 years old, so I’d imagine much shorter these days. So retirement is more or less a dream for my colleagues.

    Speaking to successes, AHS does not report them, unlike fire depts, as this helps fire depts public perception and budgets. The public will hear of fire dept giving narcan 2-3 times a day, they’re overwhelmed….Not hearing that ems has crews that individually give narcan 4-5 times per day. Do the math. 1 crew out of 45, that is per shift x 4 shifts. We can go around and around, and like i said before, I won’t discount there is value in the fire dept, however you are under utilized and primarily focused on the PR game. The willingness of the majority of your colleagues to lend a hand on medical calls is waning. They are disinterested, waiting to be cleared, annoyed they are still on scene, body language says alot. And I am not accusing you of being one of them as I can tell by your responses, you take pride in your profession and the work you do.

    I will end by arguing that wouldn’t it be best to have the professionals with the most training there first? If there was a fire, I wouldn’t want paramedics arriving first as they have fire extinguishers, so are of very little help. Instead of large budgets being thrown at fire depts across North America to improve response times for medical calls when most depts members have 1-2 weeks of medical training, the focus should be on improving the response times of the medical professionals with 3-4 years of training and many more years of exposure to high acuity calls. That would create the best outcome for patients logic would suggest. And that’s why we’re all here isn’t it, for the well-being of the community?

    • The chances of you arriving first to anything is slim. Not sure if it’s protocol but a hot response is a non thing.

      • You’re correct, we are severely under resourced and overwhelmed daily. So on calls where the fire dept first responds we don’t often arrive first as we are typically one of very few if any ambulances available across the city, which sometimes includes rural. The fire dept has an abundance of resources and are all at the hall waiting for their daily 5-10% of work they “may” have to do. 24hr x5% = 1.2 hours. 1.2 hours x 2 shifts every 8 days = <3 hours work every 8 days!
        Have a good day.

  5. I think you missed where I advocated for your department to have better funding. When it to medical calls, you are better trained. Your department is extremely valuable to our community.
    But, I’d appreciate if you stop publicly trashing our department like you have for months on these forums. As it’s very clear you don’t understand the scope of what we actually do. You are correct, our PR machine does do a good job. But, it does a good job of accurately displaying our value to the community.
    Your attitude on these forums doesn’t do the same for your department.
    Once again, I respect your service, you have a difficult job and I hope you find a way to manage your frustration.

    Mark

    • I have worked many years and seen the scope of what you do first hand many times. That’s why I take the time to point out the public misconception of your value on medical and traumatic calls, which I will point out is the majority of your call volume yet you are minimally trained to do. Like past discussions on this forum, you avoid responding to most of my points just as other fire fighters in the past. I’ve said before, you are happy to sit back and enjoy the fire PR machine while contributing less and less to medical and traumatic calls in the city most of you live. I hear of no fire fighters standing up and speaking out, concerned about their decreased workload (which wasn’t alot before) since Covid started. Its crickets from your end! I apologize if you feel I am trashing your profession, I feel like I am sticking to the facts. The fire dept has been around a long time but is becoming less and less useful. You didn’t want to respond to my point about getting the right resource to the right event, I thought that might make sense to you. I know if my house was on fire, I’d want your dept there first, however medical and traumatic emergencies, 5-10 days training vs 3-4 years, not a difficult choice. And you have issue with my attitude on these forums? Stating facts and observations is the least I can do to educate the public. Off to the next call, sleep tight!

  6. Josh let’s get some facts from you.
    1. What hall do you work at?
    2. What platoon?
    3. What’s your real name?
    4. How many asses did you wipe on your shift last night?
    You keep driving that expensive Uber of yours
    Stop hiding behind a fake name ya coward

    • Thanks “Phil”. Oh, whats the need for that personal info, to exact some bullying and intimidation. Lodge a fruitless complaint. And I haven’t cleaned up many soiled patients in my career, but take great pride when I do as it is someone’s parent, grandparent or great grandparent. It might not be the most glorious job but I do it out of respect for the patient who needs my help, and many times is embarrassed. And I think, next time it could be my family member or yours, and one day us. So its not as glorifying as many other calls I have been tasked with managing, might not make the news, I might not mention to anyone, but still recognize how important it is to that patient and their family at that moment.

      • Ya you’re right, it is important to treat the patient with respect and do the little things, I know the real medical professionals appreciate it after you drive them to the hospital.
        And I know you haven’t done many in your career, you’re usually standing 20 feet away with a computer in your hand, meanwhile fire does the dirty work for you.
        But sure keep bashing, if you wanna learn about our job just come ask and we can give you a tour of the truck little fella

  7. Well Josh, I’ve agreed with you where I could. I’ve empathized with some of your situational issues. I presented a perspective you likely aren’t aware of regarding the scope of our job.

    I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to bridge the gap with you. I wish you well and am proud of the working relationship I have with EMS. They are impressive at their careers and hats off to them. I feel the same about my brothers and sisters in our department.

    If you’d like the last word on this, please take it.

    Cheers

    • I don’t understand why the dont just cut the ambulance drivers budget?

      Every time I drive by a hospital they are always parked there, at least a dozen of them just sitting around not working hard like the firefighters do.

      If they’re not at the hospital parked they are just driving around or at a Tim’s.

      The firefighters seem to work much harder, I think we should give the money to them

      • Lol, just had a big laugh about that comment, good one! Sounds so forced was almost difficult for you to put the words together!

  8. Sounds like someone should stop pinching batteries from work so they could pass the background check and improve their fittness

    • As you continue to prove with your oh so articulate comments Theo, to be hired by the fire department all you need is a G…E…D. Way to go Theo!! You can do it!

  9. I’ve always wanted to be an ambulance driver, but the fire department just seems like a better job.

    You should apply Josh.

  10. I am so confused about why people comment with made up names. Just write something you can put your name behind, otherwise… what’s the point?

    Personally, as a paramedic, I prefer to have fire halls staffed by enough firefighters to put my house fire out. That’s it, and I think that’s all Matt et al are advocating for. I would like to have their help on calls, I would prefer if our protocols aligned on a few call types (like overdoses) for patient safety, I would prefer that they come to lift assists that benefit the patient and recently learned if I simply use the term “for clinical support” that the request doesn’t need to go to the Batt Chief for approval. Sweet. Most firefighters on the ground want to come help anyway.

    I prefer to focus on what is within my sphere of influence. So if there’s an issue on a call where things could have gone better in relation to fire and EMS, I just go through the appropriate channels or try make it back to the hall to discuss it rather than the comment section of any news site. I’m only 9.5 years on the job so perhaps I just haven’t had enough time to really get cranky about anything. I can think of only 2-3 times in my career so far that I’ve had an issue with a CFD member on a call and it’s been very easily dealt with. Of course due to staffing levels and patterns… and the fact that a medical call for CFD is essentially done 5 minutes after they leave scene (whereas it continues for another hour for us…) we are comparing apples to oranges when we discuss call volume and types. OF COURSE they have more down time.

    As a Calgary taxpayer I want to make sure my money is used wisely. As an Alberta taxpayer I want to make sure my money is used wisely. Often these budget decisions are made by politicians – who are all accessible – and we all need to do our best to advocate for our specific area of expertise. That’s it. There is literally no need for pi$$ing contests in the comment section. And we’re making progress… Since 2014 in Alberta the provincial budget for ambulance services (all ambulances) increased $81M (17.8%) and Direct delivery (public) has increased by a little more than $83M (30.1%). (Stats from HSAA’s December newsletter.) Alberta population has increased by 9.8%. As we’re provincial it may not be seen here in Calgary so it’s tough to compare using facts and actual data … but I know we have enough work to do in our own backyard than to worry about CFD’s budget unless we come at it from a taxpayer point of view. Just like we look at ICU beds and who is going to staff those with the ever increasing pandemic crisis. Let’s let the respective groups advocate and provide support as fellow union members.

    I do my best to advocate for patients and a healthy EMS system – the measure of THAT is how fast you can get an ALS ambulance to a patient. We have many challenges in this regard and none of them actually involve the fire department, so there is no reason to argue about who is busy and who isn’t.

    If anyone has specific questions about EMS and how they can advocate for patients, family members, a healthy EMS system in Alberta (yes, including Calgary) they are free to contact me at the info below. Or track me down on A shift.

    Heather Cook
    hlcook@shaw.ca

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