Calgary Fire Department asks for $10M to hire 56 new recruits as part of city budget deliberations
It has been about a month since the newly elected Calgary city council was sworn in and officials are now tasked with 2022 budget deliberations.
Mayor and council heard from several Calgarians who shared their thoughts during Monday's first day of public hearings.
The Calgary Firefighters Association says the department’s calls for more funding have been an ongoing concern for decades, and is optimistic a new council will push it forward in the right direction.
"We’re more than fires," said CFA spokesperson Matt Osborne.
"We respond to car crashes on the Deerfoot, water rescues, major hazardous material leaks. We need to make sure that we are keeping up with the training, with the equipment and having enough people to respond for Calgarians."
Osborne says he has pleaded with council to find $10 million to hire 56 new recruits, along with six new fire investigators, to catch up with a major urban sprawl the city has faced in previous years.
"We have fire trucks that only have two people riding on it when there should be four," said Osborne.
"That is going to take an incredible first step of getting initial re-financing in to help stop the bleeding."
Osborne says Calgary has the lowest staffed fire department in a metropolitan city in Canada.
He says that residents are safer in places like Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver.
The association says that those cities have a minimum of four firefighters staffed per truck, which is the NFPA 1710 minimum standard in Canada.
For low risk incidents, Calgary has 22 firefighters for an initial response, above the minimum standard of 17.
But medium risk incidents, Calgary is four shy of that minimum standard, and in high risk situations, 15 shy of the 43 needed.
"As I look at growth plans, not having mechanisms to embed funding for the fire department is a big problem," said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
"The work they do has evolved and change over time and I don’t think the way we evaluate them in the budget has kept pace."
Gondek says she looks at Calgary police, and the police commission, as a direct line from the department to city council.
She believes the fire department should have a commission as well, so the city can hear and rectify the concerns right away.
"I think 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," said Gondek.
Osborne, who has been a firefighter for two decades, says the union is taking more of a public role with these concerns as he says the department feel their calls for help have gone unanswered.
"The fire department wasn’t brought to a breaking point overnight, and we can’t fix it overnight," he said.
CFD is not actively seeking any specific funding request during deliberations, but Gondek believes with council hearing the concerns, a member of council could bring forth an amendment this week.
Osborne says the fire department’s budget has been cut by more than $35 million in the last six years.
The department responds to more than 63,000 calls per year.
The city will be considering a tax rate increase of between 0.64 and 0.99 per cent. This is down significantly from the previously approved increase of 3.64 per cent for 2022, which was determined in 2018.
Residents could see the higher-end of the tax increase if the Calgary Police Service gets the more than $6-million dollar increase it's looking for.
CPS officials say the majority of the funds would go towards new hires, predominantly civilian recruits.
Homelessness, transit and climate change were also issues brought up to council by other Calgarians.
City manager David Duckworth says the city has so far cut more than $220 million from the original budget that was approved by council in 2019.
This is the final year of the current four-year budget cycle and council is expected to vote on the budget Nov. 26.
The original version of this story incorrectly referred to Mr. Osborne as the CFA president. He is a spokesperson for the association, not the president.