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Winnipeg firefighter union warns of staffing shortages: ‘Something’s going to snap’

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WATCH: The union representing Winnipeg firefighters is concerned with recent staffing shortages and the city says it's working on a fix – Jun 27, 2022

The union that represents Winnipeg firefighters says staffing shortages at city fire stations are leading to an “untenable and unsafe situation” that’s putting its members and the public at risk.

According to data from the city, from Monday to Sunday last week, crews were short-handed three times when overtime shifts for those who were sick, or dealing with burnout went unfilled.

Read more: Paramedics being asked to work in understaffed Winnipeg emergency rooms: Shared Health

United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Tom Bilous says all shifts are being affected and it’s leading to engines and sometimes entire squads being unavailable.

“That’s a safety issue for our members … it’s also unsafe for the (public) that’s waiting (while) those valuable seconds are ticking by and machines have to come from further away,” he told Global News Winnipeg Morning this week.

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Winnipeg firefighters’ union sounding alarm over staffing shortages – Jun 27, 2022

“It’s led to an untenable and unsafe situation.”

Bilous blames the city’s hiring practices and “an inadequate and outdated staffing ratio” for the shortages.

Read more: Staff shortage due to COVID-19 affecting Winnipeg Transit, fire paramedic services, says mayor

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) has admitted it’s going through a repeated short-staffing issue.

Assistant Chief of the WFPS, Jason Shaw, says several factors are at play, including COVID-19, burnout, long-term disability and mental health issues.

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Bilous said at least 50 new firefighters are needed to fix the immediate issues, and the union is proposing a hiring blitz.

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He said overtime shifts are starting to affect firefighters.

Read more: Nursing shortage leads to ‘open to emergencies only’ policy in northern Manitoba

“We have a very busy fire department, so we need that time off,” he said.

“We’ve stretched the rubber band as far as we can and something’s going to snap.”

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Shaw says nine people have recently been hired, and the service is working with the union to further address the shortages.

“We’re working through the processes, we’re communicating with our union partnerships,” he said.

Read more: COVID-19: Staffing challenges hitting Manitoba’s service industry hard

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“We’re really doing our best to makes sure that we can get everyone back.

“It’s been challenging. We’re talking about very high call volumes and it’s been a busy time and we’re hopefully coming out of this.”

— with files from Sklyar Peters

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