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Providing a quick response time is critical, says firefighter rep. Spencer Waite
The president of the union that represents Charlottetown firefighters hopes the city gives serious consideration to properly staffing each of the stations.
Spencer Waite, speaking on behalf of the Charlottetown Professional Firefighters Association (CPFA), is referring to the fact the city announced this week it has decided to go with three separate fire stations — the two existing stations on Kent Street and in Sherwood as well as a third station in West Royalty.
CPFA represents career staff, including full-time career firefighters, part-time firefighters, two fire investigators and a fire prevention officer.
An insurance underwriters report came out a number of years ago that indicated the city was growing in the Winsloe, West Royalty and West Royalty Industrial Park areas and, thus, fire coverage was becoming a greater concern.
“It’s great to see our council beginning to address some of the insurance underwriters report initiatives,’’ Waite said. “However, we haven’t heard much regarding the report’s staffing recommendations.’’
He said the last increase to full-time, career firefighters was in 2008 when two people were hired. The last increase prior to that was in the mid-1970s.
Ideally, Waite said there should be four firefighters at each of the three stations to immediately respond to a call but that’s not the case with the existing two stations right now.
Presently at Station 1 on Kent Street, depending on the time of day, one to three firefighters leave the station the second a call comes in. However, there is a 72-hour period each week where there is only one person leaving the building when the initial call comes in. Volunteers join the crew when they arrive at the scene.
“That puts a lot of stress on them, a lot of responsibility,’’ Waite said. “From that person . . . from that person who has an emergency going on . . . they’re usually frantic and we have to wait for the arrival of additional firefighters in order to complete most tasks.’’
As for Station 2 in Sherwood, there are no career firefighters in the building when the initial call comes in. The station is made up entirely of volunteers.
“We’d be the only capital city in the country where we wouldn’t have a career person responding to a residential or commercial dwelling. There’s obviously a delay there but they do a great job.’’
When volunteers arrive at Station 2, the first engine leaves with four firefighters.
Waite said the union has no concerns over the equipment they work with. It just wants to be properly staffed.
“The city continues to grow in size and population. We’ve seen our call volume increase significantly by as much as 50 per cent over the last 10 years. Staffing concerns us, especially when it comes to the safety of our citizens and our own firefighters. We take great pride in serving our community and, without the proper staffing, we can’t do the job adequately,’’ Waite said.
Coun. Bob Doiron, chairman of the city’s protective and emergency services committee, said the city hasn’t had a chance to tackle staffing issues.
“I know the full-time firefighters have brought up concerns,’’ Doiron said. “There’s going to be some discussions between the City of Charlottetown and the firefighters union and I’m sure lots of things will come up regarding staffing. As a council and as a committee, we try to give the fire departments and police department everything they need in order to be able to keep the residents safe at all times.
“If there are concerns, we’re certainly going to sit down and listen. We’d like to have the community involved, too, to see what they think.’’
Doiron said he expects talks over staffing should begin in the next month or two. Council first has to decide where the station in West Royalty is going, between Moore Well and Drilling Inc. and the Atlantic CAT dealership on Malpeque Road or next to Island EMS on Sherwood road.
Waite is looking forward to those discussions.
“The initial response . . . those minutes are so crucial,’’ Waite said.
By the numbers
Following is a breakdown of Charlottetown’s complement of firefighters:
- Station 1 on Kent Street has eight career firefighters
- Station 2 in Sherwood has zero career firefighters
- Station 1 has 37 volunteers
- Station 2 has 40 volunteers
- The city also has one seasonal firefighter, eight casual firefighters (essentially nine part-time firefighters), three career fire prevention staff and three administration staff.
- The eight casual firefighters noted above are volunteer firefighters as well, backfill for career firefighters. In addition, the one seasonal firefighter is a volunteer firefighter.