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‘We’re in a crisis’: Vancouver firefighters warn of burnout among record calls

Click to play video: 'Vancouver firefighters suffering from burnout, says union'
Vancouver firefighters suffering from burnout, says union
It is more than a little ironic: firefighters suffering from 'burnout." But, the union representing Vancouver firefighters says because of a significant increase in calls, its members are suffering exhausting from excessive and prolonged stress. Cassidy Mosconi reports – Dec 4, 2023

Vancouver’s firefighters are warning about potential burnout due to the rising number of emergencies they are facing each day on the job.

“This year we’re going to respond to over 70,000 incidents in the city of Vancouver alone,” Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Chief Karen Fry said Monday.

“That is greater than any other year, pre-COVID. And even after we made a significant reduction to the types of medical calls that we respond to, we’ll be responding to over 4,500 fires this year.”

Fry said Vancouver’s firefighters are the busiest across Canada.

“The impact on continually going to more incidents with less time to train and less time to have downtime for recovery definitely is an impact,” she added.

On Monday, the department unveiled its first electric fire truck, the first in Canada and second in North America.

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Fry said this type of vehicle will help to create a less stressful environment with a significantly lowered noise level.

“We’re in a crisis,” she said. “We’re in a crisis with the overdoses. We have too many people dying on our streets. We have too many people dying in their homes from the overdose crisis. We’re going to record numbers of those as well, (and) will be responding to probably close to 9,000 by the end of this year.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver firefighters respond to record number of calls'
Vancouver firefighters respond to record number of calls

Fry said the department does have dedicated staff committed to the well-being of firefighters and they have apps to access mental health professionals and psychologists. But she said it’s rarely enough.

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Lee Lax, vice-president of Vancouver Firefighters IAFF Local 18 said it has been another year of “incredible growth” for the fire service in Vancouver.

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“Just last week, we had crews faced with a day where they saw 22 fires in 24 hours, something that I’ve never seen in my career,” he said.

“Our firefighters who work in the downtown core of Vancouver have seen a 20-per cent increase in calls in just over a year.”

Lax said the number of fires that crews are responding to has doubled since 2019, which is “unprecedented growth.”

“Our firefighters have been on the front line of the toxic drug supply crisis since 2006. This year alone, we will probably respond to nearly 8,000 overdoses. That’s a 1,000 call increase since just last year.”

He added that the union is starting to see the effects of burnout among members.

“After being on the front lines of this crisis and seeing that despair and some pretty challenging conditions, we’re starting to see the impacts of this prolonged exposure to a crisis that doesn’t seem to be coming to an end,” Lax said.

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This week, the union will be speaking with Vancouver’s city council about the 2024 budget.

Lax said they are hopeful that council is going to add the funds for another fire truck downtown, which will help bring some relief.

“If city council is successful adding the additional fire truck to the downtown core, we will just be getting back to staffing levels last seen in Vancouver in the 1980s,” he added.

“Since then, our call volume (has) nearly tripled. The population has grown and the complexity.”

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