Funding to improve Calgary firefighter response not expected until 2025, document reveals

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Funding to improve Calgary firefighter response not expected until 2025, document reveals
Preliminary budget figures obtained by Global News show money the Calgary Fire Department requested to reduce response times could largely go unfunded for the next couple of years. Adam MacVicar reports. – Oct 13, 2022

Calgary firefighters are disappointed in the city’s outlook of the fire department’s funding in its upcoming four-year budget, Global News has learned.

The new information comes after fire Chief Steve Dongworth addressed city councillors earlier this summer with several funding options to help bolster firefighting resources and response times.

The total cost of the funding options came to $52 million in operating funds and $51 million in capital funds with the addition of 315 firefighters over the next four years.

Preliminary budget figures obtained by Global News indicate the fire department’s request for that money in the upcoming four-year budget may largely go unfunded.

The figures show the capital funding request — to cover things like two new fire stations and new aerial units — is recommended to be delayed until the following four-year budget cycle.

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However, the figures show that the fire department could receive $16.2 million of their operating funding request split between 2025 and 2026.

Calgary Firefighters Association president Codey McIntyre said he is concerned about the potential impact to the fire department and its response times.

Click to play video: 'High angle rescue crews called in to secure glass from downtown Calgary highrise'
High angle rescue crews called in to secure glass from downtown Calgary highrise

“We’re at our breaking point,” McIntyre told Global News. “We’ve seen this city grow bigger and bigger with eight new communities approved by city council, but your Calgary Fire Department budget keeps getting smaller and smaller.”

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The funding request comes after a notice of motion from Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness directed officials to explore what resources would be required to get to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.

Although NFPA standards aren’t a regulatory standard, they’re a fire industry benchmark that includes staffing standards and response time targets of six minutes and 20 seconds for fires.

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City administration determined that reaching NFPA standards aren’t feasible in Calgary because it would take between 15 and 20 years and a near doubling of the current fire department budget.

At the time, Calgary Fire Department officials anticipated the implementation of the options included in the funding request would contribute to a one-minute 15-second improvement in response times to assemble 12 firefighters at the scene of a fire, otherwise known as an “effective response force.”

90 per cent of the time, the fire department is currently responding to fire calls within seven minutes and 40 seconds.

“I’m worried about citizens of Calgary and I’m worried about your Calgary firefighters if we do not get this funding,” McIntyre said.

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In a statement to Global News, City of Calgary chief financial officer Carla Male said the city’s budget and service plans “are still under development” and added the Calgary Fire Department has “multiple asks that they have put forward for consideration.”

“The Calgary Fire Department’s service plans and budgets are one piece of a much larger plan to continue making Calgary a vibrant, safe and secure place to live, work and play,” Male’s statement said. “Together with other city services, we’re putting together a thoughtful recommendation for operating and capital budget in line with population growth and inflation.”

Male added that city council will review the proposal “holistically” and deliberate the budget in November.

According to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, city council will see the fire department’s budget request and the funding recommended by administration during upcoming budget talks.

But Gondek said the issue may be an example of the lack of an oversight body for the fire department, similar to what the Calgary Police Service has.

“Because they have a police commission, they are able to forward a budget that is reviewed by the oversight body,” Gondek told Global News.

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“In the case of the Calgary Fire Department, they don’t have that ability… so they are incredibly dependent on (the) executive leadership team to either carry forward the ask and trust that they’re asking for the right thing, or to make the adjustments.”

Budget deliberations begin on November 21.

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