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Increasing workload prompts new fire positions

“This is about good governance and ensuring we are doing our due diligence and giving proper attention to this department, which is responsible for keeping Banff safe through hell, high water, and pandemic.”

BANFF – Banff’s fire department will get a standalone fire chief in a bid to keep the fire service model sustainable into the future and following a record-breaking year for call volumes in 2022.

The positions of fire chief and director of protective services will be separated due to an increasingly demanding workload. As well as a new standalone fire chief position, council has also budgeted for an additional full-time position to take on increasing FireSmart and training work.

Coun. Barb Pelham voiced strong support for the positions.

“We have heard from our chief extensively that we need to build a sustainable model that manages FireSmart and constant training. It’s not one-time training, it’s perpetual training, and increased call volume,” she said.

“We are at the tipping point to maintain what we have plus progress with our community’s needs. I would like to say that our trust and faith in this department is solid and it’s time for us to support them in a way that ensures sustainability for this team that is crucial for the safety of our community.”

The Banff Fire Department’s composite full-time emergency response model has not changed since the mid-1990s.

During that time, emergency call volumes have more than tripled to a record-breaking 714 by the end of 2022, up from the previous record of 622 calls in 2017.

Of these, 54 per cent of calls were medical, 20 per cent were property alarms, seven per cent were motor vehicle collisions, and the remaining 19 per cent were spread over fires, both vehicle and structure, hazmat incidents and requests from Banff EMS for drivers from the fire department to drive ambulances to Calgary. Medical calls were up eight per cent from 2021 and fire drivers for ambulances hit a record of 28 times, or 5.3 per cent of total call volumes.

“We’ve surpassed our record 622 calls in 2017,” said Silvio Adamo, Banff’s fire chief and director of protective services, who has announced he is retiring in May after 35 years of service.

Adamo said it is important to maintain the composite fire service model, which he said is a model in the industry that is slowly disappearing due to volunteer recruitment and retention issues.

“We don’t want to lose that composite fire department system. I think it’s very cost-effective as well as effective and efficient in responding to emergencies,” he said.

“We provide a very high level of service for very low cost in this community… it does need a bit more full-time people power in order to maintain this system.”

In addition to attending to record-breaking call volumes, the fire department trains 50 weeks per year as well as additional training on various weekends.

Adamo said the increase in emergency response and following emerging best practices and certified training continues to put increased demand on the deputy chiefs’ time.

“One of our many recruitment and retention strategies is to offer new and engaging training opportunities for our paid on-call members,” he said.

With the threat of wildfire growing with climate change, the FireSmart program in the community also continues to grow.

Adamo said it requires effort and time to manage current and potential new incentive programs, such as the rooftop sprinkler program and the combustible roof program, as well as ongoing vegetation management.

“The FireSmart program and increases in time required to coordinate fire department training has now grown to the point that would benefit from a full-time position focused on training and FireSmart,” he said

The protective services division was created in 2015 with the merger of the fire department, emergency management, municipal enforcement and management of the RCMP contract. The fire chief became the director of protective services/fire chief.

While the merger worked in the beginning, Adamo said there have been many changes and an increase in demand for service across all departments in the division over the past few years that has made the current structure challenging.

“It’s unsustainable, to be quite frank,” he said.

Wages and benefits for a standalone fire chief are $127,500 in 2023 with an April start date, jumping to $164,000 in 2024 and $167,280 in 2025.

For the FireSmart and training officer, wages and benefits are $82,500 with an April start date, rising to $112,750 in 2024 and $115,005 in 2025.

Coun. Hugh Pettigrew also voiced strong support for the positions.

“If we don’t plan for disasters we’ll end up with one, so I support this 100 per cent for all the reasons we were given,” he said.

Mayor Corrie DiManno said approval of the two new positions is about the sustainability of a department that is vitally important to the community.

“It really worries me deeply to hear words like unsustainable and burnout when we’re talking about a department that is solely responsible for the safety of our residents and visitors,” she said.

“This is about good governance and ensuring we are doing our due diligence and giving proper attention to this department, which is responsible for keeping Banff safe through hell, high water, and pandemic.”