Calgary’s policymakers got a taste of what it’s like being on the front lines with the city’s firefighting department on Monday.
Nine councillors and the mayor joined the Calgary Firefighters Association (CFA) for “Fire Ops 101,” donning full firefighting equipment for a trio of firefighting scenarios: putting out a controlled fire, using the jaws of life at a mock motor vehicle accident and to participate in a simulated medical emergency.
Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness, one of eight on council who haven’t sat around the horseshoe before, said the stressful nature of being an emergency responder came through loud and clear.
“We make big decisions on what kind of support and services these guys get,” Wyness said, noting Calgary’s ratio of citizens to firefighters is among the lowest nationwide. “So we know that there needs to be support. Putting myself in that building right now, walking into the unknown — a very black building — I want support.”
Another novice councillor said the seriousness of having to do one’s job inside a building on fire underscored the need for firefighters having the right resources.
“That’s something that we’ve heard from the Calgary firefighters is how the logistical waves work and where all the trucks are and where the backup is,” Ward 1 Coun. Jasmine Mian said. “But when you’re in it, you see that if that doesn’t show up, it’s a matter of life and death.”
The opportunity for city councillors to learn firsthand what it’s like to be a first responder was put on hold during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s last opportunity to put on the protective gear and climb into a firetruck.
“At that time, I was able to make better policy decisions because I could see the reality of the folks that we are responsible for setting budgets for,” she said.
“There’s 10 of us out here today from council and all of my colleagues are starting to understand the same things that I learned back then.
“It reinforces how you have to get out into the shoes of someone that you are making policy decisions for.”
Councillors also have opportunities to go on “ride alongs” with the Calgary Police Service and Calgary Transit peace officers.
“All of the city departments have welcomed city councillors to come in and see what they do. I think everyone sees the value of actually being there and get your hands on it,” Mian said.
CFA president Codey McIntyre said the day also allowed councillors to see the breadth of responses firefighters are called to.
“We’re the first on the accident on Deerfoot (Trail). We’re going to critical medical events on a daily basis. Were the first ones to go to water rescues on the Bow River,” McIntyre said.
“I hope the mayor and city council take away from this event how much work Calgary firefighters do for the city of Calgary, for the citizens of Calgary.”
Gondek said she was proud of her council colleagues who took their Monday during council’s scheduled break to try out firefighting.
“None of us want to be perceived as someone that other public servants can’t relate to. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here for public service. Fire is here for public service,” the mayor said.
“And if we don’t build relationships with each other, we’re not going to be making strong decisions, we’re not going to understand what we need to do for the people of the city.”