Protesters filled the steps of city hall before Halifax regional council made its decision on Tuesday to maintain firehall staffing. A motion put forward that would have caused three fire stations to either alter or lose their 24/7 career firefighter staffing was defeated in a 11-5 vote.
Those stations were located on Lady Hammond Road, Patton Road and King Street, also referred to as stations 4, 11 and 13 respectively.
Chris Camp, a full-time firefighter, stood outside with the protesters before council started.
“We’re concerned about the proposed changes to stations 4, 13 and 11 to take full-time firefighters and replace them with volunteers.” said Camp before walking in to attend the meeting.
Council member Waye Mason (District 7-Halifax South) moved the motion, stating, “I brought the motion forward because I was afraid we would not change anything and it would stay as it’s been since 2006.”
Though some stations would lose their permanent full-time staff, fire chief Doug Trussler believed the proposed changes would standardize response time across HRM to five minutes a call.
Trussler suggested Patton Road become a volunteer-only station, while the Lady Hammond Road and King Street locations would use volunteers during the evenings and weekends.
The loss of permanent firefighters was seen as a decrease in emergency service standards by some councillors, as well as the protesters.
Trussler provided information about the normal processes of volunteer firefighters:
- There are currently 525 volunteer firefighters in the HRM
- They have a 300 hour training program compared to a career firefighter’s 416 hour program
- They use a pager system and respond to approx. 20-25% of calls
- Pre-travel response time for volunteers is approx. 6 minutes compared to career firefighter’s 1 minute
- No volunteer is required to have a car
- All firefighters are required to go inside a building during arrival
- However, there must be at least 4 firefighters present before any one person may enter a dangerous area
After the first motion was defeated, councillor Steve Craig (District 15 – Lower Sackville) put forward a motion that would have seen all HRM fire stations become composite stations, requiring four firefighters per vehicle. Composite stations are always staffed with paid firefighters, but rely on volunteer help during busy hours.
But, that motion was deferred as there was no budget report prepared.
Council members estimated it would add $5.4 million to fire expenditures within four years of being implemented. Most of that cost would come from hiring a little more than 50 new career firefighters.
Trussler said the fire department has 16 full-time vacancies already. That number could rise to as high as 32 by 2017.
Halifax currently has a list of eligible candidates to become career firefighters. But according to the report read today, only three names are on that list. To garner more potential recruits, the city will undertake a hiring process, advertising on their website and over social media.
The city hopes to have all the current vacancies filled by the middle of 2017, though the city has the capacity to train only 32 firefighters a year.
Our reporter Sean Mott has this report: