Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services (LFES) has been grappling with operational staffing issues that have been affecting the quality of service it is able to provide, according to Chief Greg Adair.
He delivered a presentation to the city’s community safety standing policy committee on Thursday and provided more information on the difficulties his department has been facing.
Adair said Alberta Health Services is continuously changing its operational requirements in a way that is negatively impacting the operational staffing of the city’s first responders.
“The challenges, basically, are that the ambulance staff is not available to aid in fire and rescue operations,” the chief said.
According to Adair’s presentation, LFES has faced the following changes since 2015:
- A 20 per cent increase in long distance transfers, which Adair said can tie up resources outside the city for four to eight hours at a time;
- A 58 per cent jump in how many calls LFES is responding to outside of Lethbridge;
- A 47 per cent increase in EMS call volumes.
Adair added that since EMS dispatch was moved from a local centre to a centralized call centre in Calgary in January 2021, LFES has lost the “situational awareness” of EMS units, making it more difficult to integrate them back into the fire service.
LFES has also been asked to relocate ambulances to outside of Lethbridge to help cover other communities, while not adding any new ambulances into the system since 2015.
To address the struggles, Adair presented options to members of the committee, who voted to go ahead with recommending his request to city council. The motion at a future council meeting will recommend that the city support hiring and training eight new firefighters in 2022.
The recommendation also involves LFES moving to what Adair described as “parallel service,” which is hoped will ensure a sustainable, safe and effective fire and rescue response force for the department.
Under parallel service, LFES employees would still be cross-trained for both fire and EMS response, but wouldn’t be able to provide both fire suppression and health care when responding to a call — as they currently can.
“If we move to the parallel service… that ambulance that is on the fire scene is only there for medical aid,” Adair said.
The hiring and training of eight new firefighters is expected to cost about $885,000, which Adair said could be taken from Budget Appropriation Unexpended funding.
To offset increased staffing costs and not impact taxes moving forward, Adair said LFES should be able to find efficiencies within its operating budget. The city could also request additional funding from AHS when it engages in contract negotiations later this year.
The recommendation will now go before city council for a final decision.