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Calgary fire department budget would near double to reach industry benchmark: City

Calgary would have to double its annual fire department operating budget, plus add capital funds to reach “aspirational” NFPA targets, a city report read.

Back in March, Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness requested city administration examine what additional resources the Calgary Fire Department would need to reach the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 standards.

That report will come to the city’s Executive Committee on Wednesday, June 29.

It showed the city would need to increase the annual operating budget by $214.5 million, plus invest $231 million capital dollars to reach those targets. It would also mean the addition of 1276 firefighters.

Admin said the NFPA standards aren’t a regulatory standard, but a fire industry benchmark.

“CFD could use NFPA 1710 as an aspirational guiding document, but it is not feasible as a response standard for Calgary,” the report read.

The report said the changes would take 15 to 20 years to implement.

Currently, the Calgary fire department budget is roughly $240 million.

In 2021, the CFD had its busiest year on record. From 2020 to 2021 there was a 16 per cent increase in calls. A large portion of those are first-response medical calls. Still, the call volume increase is impacting the well-being of firefighters, along with their psychological and physical safety.

The city approved $10 million for 62 more firefighters in the 2021 budget adjustment.

Coun. Wyness said she wanted the information knowing that they wouldn’t be able to change fire resources within four years.

She just wants a faster fire response. Currently, CFD isn’t meeting the response time targets set by the city.

“I’m hoping… that we’re going to see that simply adding firefighters to the vehicles we have can improve their ability to respond to a scene rather than having more vehicles,” she said.

Options provided in the city report

The city report offers three different options that could be considered leading up to November’s four-year budget cycle.

Wyness said it’s good to see what they could be getting with the different asks.  

“This was an ask for information so that the new council can understand what we’re approving,” she said.

Fire response, however, can’t be looked at in isolation, Wyness said. Firefighters are seeing call volumes increase, they’re staying on scene longer waiting for EMS, they’re dealing with medical calls.

“It’s a holistic picture we’re trying to solve here when it comes to how we’re going to allocate budget going into the next year for your budgets,” she said.

Codey McIntyre, President of the Calgary Firefighters Association, said Calgary is the lowest funded fire department in Canada’s major municipalities.

“We are facing a terrible and unprecedented rise in opioid overdoses, and we are being asked to do more with less in the face of an ever-growing city,” he said in a statement provided to LiveWire Calgary.

“Next week, city council will be asked to consider the funding of 19 new suburban communities. We are continually asked to do more with less. This puts the lives of firefighters and the lives of Calgarians at risk.”

Admin is recommending the report be received for information.

Editor’s note: The initial story indicated there was a 167 per cent increase in CFD calls. This was included in the city report. In the Executive Committee meeting on June 29, CFD Chief Steve Dongworth corrected that amount and said it was a 16 per cent increase.