Wednesday, November 05, 2008

City council reverses its position on fire crew incident staffing

Councillor Ken Cote was the lone hold out at the most recent city council meeting, as the soon to be departing councilor held his position when it comes to the issue of the staffing of fire crews responding to emergency calls.

Cote was the lead proponent of the bylaw from 2004 which limited the number of fire crew members attending to calls, a move that never particularly sat well with the local fire fighters union.

Last week, in a four to one vote, council reversed that bylaw allowing for the officer in charge of the shift to determine the required number of fire fighters tasked to attend any emergency call, a move that has met with the approval of the rank and file fire fighters.

The decision to change the bylaw comes about of course just before the November 15th municipal election, not the first time that the issue of fire fighting services in the city has made an appearance on the municipal election scene.

In the 2005 election, the topic of increasing the auxiliary component to the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue Service became a hot issue (it has been a program that has had its challenges over the last three years). It made for a discussion which resonated through both the mayoralty and council debates of the time.
From our Podunkian archives, a review of the exchange between Mayoralty challenger Gloria Rendell and incumbent Mayor Herb Pond:
The Fire Department became a hot issue, Ms. Rendell not at all supportive of the current idea to back up the regular force with a volunteer based operation. She also said she would make all info public regarding the plan. The Mayor countered with a statement that we cannot afford a Cadillac service, the trained Auxiliary force would supplement our paid department members.
The final word on the issue went to the challenger, who said that budget cuts should have taken place elsewhere other than in the protective services.
With both Mayor Pond and Councilor Cote departing the municipal scene and the remainder of council seemingly onside with the new interpretations on staffing , it would seem that fire services won’t be quite as topical this time around.

The Daily News provided some background on the topic in Monday’s paper.

Firefighters welcome chance to manage response
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, November 3, 2008
Pages one and three

City councilors have voted to allow the Prince Rupert Fire Department to decide on its own how many firemen to send out on emergency calls.

In a vote of four-to-one, council decided that it was best for the fire officer in charge at the time to make the call on how many first responders were needed, rather than the instituted cap of two that had been city bylaw up until last Monday.

“Our hope is that when we have a crew on, whatever size it is, the discretion could be left to the officer in charge to respond to the incident with them members that he has rather than just sending two per say then finding out that they need more,” said president of the Firemen Union of Prince Rupert Calvin Thompson.

For Ruperites that could mean seeing more or less firemen at a medical incident based on the decision of the first officer in charge for that shift rather than a guaranteed two.

The previous council passed the original bylaw 1212 on March 29, 2004. On that day, the bylaw was motioned by then city councilor Paul Kennedy and current city councilor Ken Cote.

Current council members Kathy Bedard and Nelson Kinney were the only members of council then to oppose it.

This time, it was Ken Cote who was the lone council voice to vote against the motion. He wondered whether or not the city’s fire department would be using its time wisely by having no cap on how many first responders it would send.

“What used to end up happening is you would have a call come in to the ambulance station, which I believe is then forwarded to the fire hall, and so the ambulance would leave the ambulance station and go to an incident location, and all the crew from the fire hall would leave from there and they take two trucks following the ambulance, said Cote.

Cote thought that amount of attention toward some of the minor incidents around town would be overkill and a waste of the fire department’s resources.

He said that he saw no need to send a full-blown fire crew for non-emergency medical situations because the ambulance was already set up for that.

“Obviously, not all of our incidents are fatal heart attacks. I do understand that they need assistance if the person is bigger but to have the full-blown fire service to run to every medical situation is just overkill,” said Cote.

Thompson said that having the flexibility to allow the first officer in charge to make the decision was important to how they could properly delegate the proper response for each incident.

“First of all, when we are assisting or heading to a medical call, we are depleting our ability for a fire call,” said Thompson.

“(With the new rule) we can stay on scene and that way if we got an actual fire service call then we could leave for that destination, which we fell would be better than coming from two different locations.”

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