Firefighters in Canmore are urging residents to put pressure on the town to hire more staff and say their numbers will be cut in half in a matter of weeks.

Canmore firefighters say a decision by the town's council is putting their safety and the safety of residents at risk.

The town's emergency staff used to be trained as both firefighters and paramedics but they are now making the transition to a stand-alone fire department.

Alberta Health Services took over EMS for the area almost three years ago and since then the integrated system has operated on an interim basis.

The integrated service employs 13 full time staff.

Starting on April 1, 2012 there will be eight full time firefighters on duty, two per shift, and volunteer and on-call firefighters will be called out when needed.

The firefighters union believes there should be at least 16 full time staff, four per shift. They say that two firefighters can only stage a defensive exterior attack and any search for potential victims would have to wait until volunteers or on-call crews arrive.

"A fire that's free burning throughout a home doubles in size every minute. That gives us approximately 15 minutes to affect a search and rescue on a fire scene if there are victims trapped inside," said Dan Irvine; from the Canmore Firefighters Union.

Canmore's mayor says council had to make some tough decisions when the province took over the ambulance service.

"We've always depended on volunteers or a paid response fire department. Most of our firefighters are volunteer and paid response as they are across the province in rural areas," said Mayor Ron Casey.

The firefighters are trying to launch a public awareness campaign but the mayor says the decision has already been made.