Firefighters union worried budget cuts will affect safety in St. John's region

·2 min read

Ninety minutes after firefighters in St. John's found out budget cuts would take one of their two ladder trucks off the road, the department used both trucks to respond to separate fire calls.

That's according to Craig Smith, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, and a firefighter with the St. John's Regional Fire Department.

The union says the city's decision to reduce the minimum staffing level from 39 to 37 will make it impossible for them to staff a second ladder truck, used primarily for rescuing people from burning buildings.

That will leave one ladder truck in downtown St. John's to serve the entire region — St. John's, Mount Pearl, Paradise, Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove, Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, and sometimes Conception Bay South.

"It's important enough to save your life, and I don't know how much clearer we can be with that," Smith told the St. John's Morning Show.

According to the city, it's not so simple.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

Staffing levels are currently set at 44, leaving room for five people to call in sick before reaching the daily minimum of 39. As it stands now, if more than five people call in sick, the department will call in firefighters on overtime to have reach the minimum of 39.

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says the city is not reducing daily staffing levels below 44. It's just not calling in replacements on overtime until the department is down below 37 staff members, instead of 39.

The department's overtime costs have doubled in the last four years, reaching $1.2 million annually. Breen said this decision is about curbing overtime costs.

"We're proud of the firefighters," Breen said.

"We're proud of the work they do, but we do have administrative and operational issues with the city that we are responsible to the taxpayers for and we need to deal with those."

CBC
CBC

Smith said either way, that still leaves the complement of firefighters short of being able to staff the city's secondary ladder truck on days when staffing is low.

According to statistics provided by the city, the fire department uses both trucks at the same time on average eight times a year. Smith said one of those instances was this past Tuesday.

Chief Sherry Colford, who spoke alongside Breen, said she is still exploring all options and that people should know the loss of the second ladder truck would only be on days when the staffing complement falls below 39.

"If we are at 39 or above, we will always have two ladders rolling for that day," she said.

Smith said the union was not consulted on the cuts, but credited Colford for exploring other options.

Smith suggested there are ways to curb overtime costs, as well as limiting overspending and oversupplying at each station.

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