The face of firefighting in Charlottetown could change in a big way in the coming months.
The Charlottetown Professional Firefighters Association (CPFA) has officially joined the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and now exists as IAFF Local 5219.
Spencer Waite, president of the CPFA, said one of the issues they want to address is a serious concern over public safety lapses in the city. He said there aren’t enough full-time firefighters responding to a call immediately, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“In the coming months, we will be serving notice to the City of Charlottetown that we want to bargain and one of our priorities is certainly staffing,’’ Waite said.
Realistically, Waite would like to see an additional eight career firefighters hired for Station 1 on Kent Street. It currently employs eight full-timers.
He would also like to see 16 career firefighters at Station 2 in Sherwood. There are no career firefighters in that district right now. The entire complement is made up of volunteers.
And, if and when a third station gets built, Waite said it should also have 16 career firefighters employed. The city is currently looking at two properties to build a third station in West Royalty.
The numbers Waite offers are to ensure that there is a minimum of four firefighters at each station, on every shift, responding to a call the second it comes in. Right now, at Station 1, there is a 72-hour window each week where only one firefighter responds immediately. That’s mostly on evenings and weekends. When a call comes in to Sherwood, there is a delay because the volunteer firefighters have to get to the station first.
“You have the frantic public asking you to do something (when you arrive on scene) and you’re very limited until additional resources arrive. We’re just trying to make the city safer. The IAFF is going to improve working conditions.’’
Waite said P.E.I. is the last province in Canada to affiliate with the IAFF. Charlottetown is the only fire department in the province that has career firefighters.
The IAFF specializes in staffing and minimum-manning clauses.
“Municipalities try to manage the funding that they have so quite often things get priority over manning but, from our point of view, there is nothing more important right now. We have the equipment so for Charlottetown it’s to try to get that first response improved.
“By joining the IAFF, they’ve gone through this with many municipalities in the past and have helped them to grow. They’re experts.’’
Waite said unlike other union representation, which often caters to a vast group of employees, the IAFF is tailored to firefighting.
The union president added that the IAFF also offers incredible mental health service to firefighters.
“They have peer support programs in the region but, above and beyond, if somebody requires additional services there is a centre that caters directly to mental illness, their own IAFF centre.’’
IAFF Local 5219 will have its official charter presentation on Oct. 12.