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Longer wait times expected following budget cuts: Calgary fire chief

WATCH: The Calgary Fire Department says response times and service levels will be taking a hit as a result of the city’s $60-million budget cut. Adam MacVicar reports.

The Calgary Fire Department has been hit with its second budget cut this year, but its chief is warning that those cuts will have an impact on response times.

The fire department’s budget was cut by $7.6 million as part of the city’s $60-million budget cut this week.

Earlier this year, the fire department was forced to find $1.4 million in efficiencies as part of the original budget process.

“These latest cuts will mean that our response time performance will degrade,” fire chief Steve Dongworth said Friday. “In the case of assembling an effective response force at a serious or escalating fire, it will degrade further.”

READ MORE: Cuts to Calgary Fire Department, police service, transit as council approves $60M budget reduction

According to Dongworth, the fire department has a seven-minute response time target to get to fire and emergency calls, and an 11-minute target to assemble an effective response force, which is made up of multiple engines and an aerial unit.

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Dongworth said Friday that fire crews are already having trouble meeting those targets, prior to council’s approval of the budget cuts.

“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, no question,” Dongworth said.

Tuesday’s cuts will also mean a reduction of four medical response units, as well as one less rescue unit.

The medical response units are SUVs with two firefighters who arrive on the scene of life-threatening calls prior to paramedics.

According to Dongworth, the four units will be stripped of their gear and most likely sold, and larger engines will be used to respond to those medical calls.

READ MORE: Here’s what $60M in budget cuts will mean for Calgary staff, services

The fire department won’t see any layoffs as a result of the cuts, but it is not filling a number of vacant positions due to retirements.

A recruit class of 40 firefighters that was supposed to start on July 15 has also been cut. Dongworth said many already received job offers and some had already relocated to Calgary.

“We had to withdraw those job offers, which was very unfortunate and something we didn’t take lightly,” Dongworth said. “But we realized we couldn’t sustain those people if we did hire them on July 15.

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“I’ve got to say realistically, as the chief, that I can’t see us hiring until 2021 at the earliest.”

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Dongworth is concerned about further cuts once budget talks arise again in November, and more cuts could lead to temporary station closures across the city.

“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,” Dongworth said.

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