The mayor of Saint John has accused the city’s firefighters of fearmongering after they claimed to run out of resources to respond to calls last week.
In a Facebook post, Saint John Firefighters said the strain occurred March 26. It said they were spread so thin during stormy conditions in the city that they “ran out of resources” to respond to emergencies.
Brad Lanigan, president of the Saint John Firefighters Association IAFF Local 771, said there were six calls all over the city in a 21-minute span that required a response from firefighters. He said that in some cases crews were sent to calls without the standard level of response.
Lanigan said that at one point, crews were not able to respond to calls for 36 minutes.
“That’s where we’re at right now where we’re spread so thin with the reductions in the city,” Lanigan said. “It’s not going to take a lot to not have the trucks available and that puts firefighters and the public in a very bad position.”
The Facebook post placed some of the blame on the closure of 8 Station in Millidgeville earlier this year and a reduction in staffing levels. Twenty-four positions were eliminated as part of the station closure, as the City of Saint John wrestled with eliminating a $10-million deficit in 2021 and 2022.
Saint John Mayor Don Darling accused the association of seeking political gain with the post, saying it helps the narrative of candidates for the upcoming municipal elections who have committed to restoring fire services.
Darling said firefighters have no one to blame but themselves for cuts to resources because of annual wage increases that outpace municipal growth.
“This wasn’t an innocent post,” Darling said. “This was a post meant to bring fear to the community and I think that’s wrong. And I would plead with the union to stop doing it because I think we are a safe community.”
Lanigan said the public needs to know that a lack of resources is a major concern.
“(The city has) made rash decisions based on their finances,” Lanigan said. “They just decided they wanted to take this portion out of the fire department but they didn’t assess any of the risk.”
While the two sides remain at odds over fire resources they do agree municipal tax reform is necessary to help fix some of the many issues plaguing the city. Tax reform is expected in time for the 2022 fiscal year and that could mean more property tax money collected in Saint John could remain in city coffers.
In a statement to Global News, Saint John fire Chief Kevin Clifford said there was one 15-minute window Friday night where calls for service had to be “stacked” and prioritized because firefighters could not respond.
He said prioritizing calls in this way has been done before in instances of intense demand for service.