The Esquimalt Firefighters Association says the planned purchase of a new heavy rescue truck will only add value to the department if more staff are brought onto the team.
The new truck is replacing the current rescue truck, which is too small to store all of the department’s equipment.
“Our little truck has outgrown itself … that’s why we’re replacing it,” said Fire Chief Chris Jancowski, adding that the “newer, more comprehensive apparatus” allows the department to do more, such as water or confined space rescues.
The union estimates the truck to cost at least $750,000 – money it says is wasted without proper staffing.
“Our greatest concern is, we’re currently not ensuring the ladder truck is available and a fifth firefighter is available to protect the community and our firefighters, yet they’re purchasing a new piece of equipment that, the way we see it, will be parking, waiting for someone to come and get it,” said Andrew Zado, president of the department union.
The union has been butting heads with management on staffing issues for a few years, with the association concerned about what it believes to be inconsistent staffing levels having an impact on community and firefighter safety.
In order to use the aerial rescue ladder, five firefighters are needed, one to drive the aerial truck and four to take the fire engine.
But Zado said there is no back fill when a firefighter is sick or unable to work. The missing member is “replaced” by a chief or assistant chief, who would already be on shift.
To Zado, that puts the department down a vital team member.
“They just count the fire chief or the assistant fire chief as part of the crew strength, but realistically they are always available anyways, so really we are losing our capacity and firefighters on the ground,” Zado said. “And when seconds count, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”
And the threshold for wellness in a fire crew is higher than a typical worker, Zado noted. He said one team member has been off work since a deadly apartment fire on Craigflower Road in April. And in 2018, there were 100 days when a chief took the place of a missing firefighter.
But Jancowski says the staffing model is more than adequate, especially since the signing of mutual aid agreements that allow the department to call on other crews.
“On a community safety level we have always maintained that minimum (five responders) and most times we have more than that,” he said. “We’ll staff the truck as and when needed, as we’re doing currently with the current rescue truck. It’s that same purpose of cross staffing where we have a firefighter drive that vehicle to the scene.”
“All we’re doing is replacing a piece of equipment with something more suitable to our community’s needs,” Jancowski added. “The same staffing model has been maintained and we will continue to maintain that unless something changes in the future.”