'Our ability to serve Calgarians will be reduced': Calgary fire chief reacts to budget reduction package
City council approved a $60M budget cut package earlier this week and Calgary's fire chief says slashing the fire and emergency services budget will have an impact on response times and public safety.
On Tuesday, council voted 13 to 1 to approve the budget reduction package and the plan includes more than $7 million in cuts from the fire department and emergency service’s budget and another $7 million from the Calgary Police Service.
Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth says the cuts amount to about $9 million from his department's budget.
"All of us at the Calgary Fire Department understand the need to cut the city budget to make up the burden that was disproportionately placed on businesses this year by the tax shift. To do our part, we came to the table with the full amount we were asked to find and council approved cutting $7.6 million from our budget this week, along with another $1.4 million that we'd already committed into finding further to the one Calgary budget process last fall. This brings the budget reduction for the Calgary Fire Department to a total of $9 million for 2019."
Dongworth says the budget for 2019 was $235 million and now that it has been reduced to $226 million, it will mean response times will be impacted.
'These latest cuts will mean that our response time performance will degrade. In the case of assembling an effective responsive force in a serious and escalating fire, it will degrade further," he said. "We have response time targets with seven minutes to get to fire and emergency calls with our first unit, and eleven minutes to assemble an effective response force and an effective response force is normally two of our engine units, an aerial unit and a rescue unit, where we have a serious or the potential of a serious structural fire. Already we're around the 13 minute mark on the effective response force and this will doubtless mean that will go further in the wrong direction without question."
He says about 90 per cent of the budget is for staffing and that less investment in the CFD could potentially put people's lives at risk.
"That means that it will challenge our ability to fight that fire effectively, which will have impacts on citizen and firefighter safety."
He says firefighters will continue to respond to medical calls and that crews remain committed to the safety of citizens.
"Despite these challenges, I wanted to assure Calgarians that we will continue to provide a lean, light and efficient fire service, staffed with exceptional public servants, with a world-class commitment to public safety and we thank the public for their support during this time of reduction."
Dongworth says they can make up some of the shortfall by reducing the size of their fleet and by cancelling at least one class of new recruits, which the chief says will mean no one will be laid off.
"If we'd hired those forty people and we'd been a month or two different timing, I think we'd be laying off firefighters today but we've got some opportunity to bridge finance by cutting back on our overtime with some help from the corporation. We've got some ability to bridge to where we can actually keep our employee base that we have today and let retirement bring the numbers down."
Dongworth says he is also concerned that there could be more cuts when the conversation around the budget begins again in November.
The city's budget cut plan will also result in cuts to transit and police and the layoff of dozens of city employees.