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Constant fires running Winnipeg’s firefighters ragged, union says

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Constant fires running Winnipeg’s firefighters ragged, union says
Winnipeggers are sounding the alarm after a string of fires on Main Street - all within just a few weeks, and just a few blocks from each other. Global's Katherine Dornian reports on the factors and concerns. – Mar 18, 2024

A rash of fires on and around Main Street in recent months has the president of Winnipeg’s firefighters’ union frustrated for his members.

Tom Bilous told Global Winnipeg that the number of fires citywide in 2024 alone has been unsustainable for local fire crews, and that going into vacant buildings that have been set ablaze can be a life-or-death situation for firefighters.

“Our crews see this time and time out… you don’t know if the building is inhabited, if it’s vacant. You don’t know if there’s been fires in (there) previous — what are you going into?

“Is there burned-out stairs? Are there holes in the floor? Are there people trapped in there? It creates a whole extra level of hazard for our members in an already hazardous environment,” said Bilous, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

“Day in, day out our guys are winning the battles, but I don’t know if we’re winning the war. We’re closing in on 500 fires since the turn of the calendar. That is ridiculous. We’re basically the Detroit of Canada, and that is a sad stat.”

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Bilous said crews are being run ragged, especially with the dangers inherent in vacant buildings.

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“Lots of these places are vacant, they don’t have electricity. They don’t spontaneously combust. This is either somebody trying to stay warm or someone trying to create an arson.

“We are putting resources into our arson investigators, which is wonderful, but we needed it years ago… We don’t know why this is going on, our crews are run ragged. It has to get fixed. This is life and death, people.

“We need to address it, we need to change it. Our crews are exhausted. It is amazing we have not had more injuries or worse. It’s not good.”

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Fires leave an impact on all areas of the city, but Winnipeg’s deputy fire chief Scott Wilkinson says when Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service crews are spending so much time in one area, other parts of the city are also negatively affected.

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“When we’re devoting a lot of resources to one area, it causes us to do a lot of logistical work with our communications team to start managing other areas… and does impact our response times in other locations,” Wilkinson told 680 CJOB’s The Jim Toth Show.

“The impacts, though, are certainly on our equipment and our personnel — our personnel being number one.

“Every fire we go to creates concerns for risks of health and safety of our personnel… we’re seeing injuries — small, hopefully — and we’re also seeing impacts on our equipment, wear and tear on our equipment, fuel costs.”

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