Committee looking to lengthen fire response times, but firefighters concerned about safety
A city committee is proposing a change to response times in the City of Calgary, but firefighters say the plan is causing some concern, because every second matters when it comes to fires.
The City of Calgary is planning to alter response times by holding off on building new fire stations in developing communities until a requisite number of homeowners are living there, contributing tax revenue.
Currently, the city has a standard response time of seven minutes for fires but the committee is looking to have that increased to 10 minutes for newly developed communities that don’t possess fire stations.
As a result, developed communities would enjoy a faster response time, but residents in newer communities would have to wait just a bit longer.
Mike Carter, president of the Calgary Firefighter’s Association, doesn’t like the idea because he knows that every minute counts.
“That three minutes, the fire grows. It doubles in size every 30 seconds. Flashover occurs in three to four minutes now in the room of origin, so the sooner we can get there, the sooner we can intervene on that.”
Carter says that there are guidelines for response times in North America for fires and other emergencies. Those are set at six minutes and 24 seconds and he says Calgary isn’t far off the mark.
"Calgary set it at seven minutes, which is close. And now they’re looking at 10 minutes for new communities, which kind of sets a two-tiered system for our citizens and it puts us in a longer timeframe to get there to help people when they need it.”
Shane Keating, Ward 12 councillor, says that under current regulations governing the development of new communities, fire halls are considered to be ‘leading infrastructure’.
That means that before anything else is built in a new community, a fire hall will need to be put in place.
“A fire hall would need to be built in a field with no houses around it to guarantee that you’re going to fall within that seven-minute benchmark.”
He says the discussion will be on allowing development to go on despite not having the seven minute benchmark on the understanding that it eventually would be in place as the community grows.
Keating says that a fire hall costs between $3 and $3.5M a year to operate and if the operational costs aren’t covered by the tax base of the community, it will fall to the taxpayers in the rest of the city.
“So the idea is saying ‘what can we do to mitigate those risks of the emergency response of fire halls’ and ‘what can we do to make it feasible so that development can proceed?’”
He says it doesn’t come down to money, but he doesn’t want to burden the rest of taxpayers in Calgary with supporting a solitary fire hall.
He says that the 10 minute wait time would only be in new growth communities.
Keating says that he’s heard from Calgarians who are worried that they are changing the system and putting homes and residents at undue risk.
“We are not changing everything. We are keeping it exactly the same. We are allowing incremental growth to be able to match the needs and the revenue generation of the city to be able to fund the city itself and, at the same time, we are mitigating as much as we can any unforeseen risks.”
He adds that several different things can be done to mitigate those risks such as adding sprinkler systems to new homes or putting specialized emergency response teams in those communities.
The changes are expected to be discussed further on Monday before it’s expected to go to council for a final decision.
(With files from Jordan Kanygin)