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Calls for Canmore Fire-Rescue services continue to climb

“It really comes down to an increase in population,” Canmore Fire-Rescue Chief Walter Gahler said. “We’re seeing roughly that same amount of growth in permanent growth and in visitation.”
Canmore Fire Rescue
Canmore Fire Rescue

CANMORE – With increases to the number of visitors and residents in Canmore each year, the local fire department is also seeing an increased number of calls for assistance. 

Canmore Fire-Rescue reported an increase of 5.4 per cent for service calls last year, as they answered 662 compared to 628 in 2019.

“It really comes down to an increase in population,” Canmore Fire-Rescue Chief Walter Gahler said. “We’re seeing roughly that same amount of growth in permanent growth and in visitation.”

He said the past five to eight years have seen similar increases, with the exception of 2017, which had a large jump due to the Canadian government offering free visitation to national parks for the country’s 150th anniversary.

In 2020, of the 662 services calls, 42 per cent – or 275 – were for medical assistance. The next highest was 188 calls for alarms, 67 for a fire and 48 for motor vehicle collisions.

Gahler noted through the first three months of 2021, they’ve already seen an increase in service calls compared to the same months in 2020.

He added they’re expecting another busy summer with out-of-town visitation, which according to the report, saw peak staffing from the Easter long weekend to Labour Day last year.

While the department doesn’t have a specific contract with Alberta Health Services to respond to medical needs, Gahler said Canmore Fire-Rescue responds to all calls that are life threatening, or serious in nature.

It’s something typical for many municipalities in Alberta, Gahler said, and helps provide both an advanced and basic life support response to medical emergencies.

According to the staff report on yearend statistics, for 85 per cent of service calls, there were staff who were trained to provide advanced life support. Canmore council has supported staffing the department at the higher service level since Alberta Health Services took over providing EMS services. 

Fire crews also arrived first on the scene for medical calls about half the time and had an overall response time of six minutes and 48 seconds.

The department classifies a medical call when life or health safety is at risk, according to the report.

In the coming years, the department will increase its staffing of 10 full-time people and 31 part-time firefighters and administrators. With four fire trucks, there’s always a minimum of three firefighters at the station and more able to immediately respond, Gahler said.

The department will also continue to emphasis the importance of fire prevention, he added.

Gahler also became a director with the Alberta Association of Fire Chiefs, which will give increased voice to concerns faced by the town. With more than 200 fire services in the province and about 20 of them full-time, he said it’s an opportunity to communicate more regularly with other departments and use their experience to aid in services in Canmore.

“Any field you can imagine, there’s real strength in communication and sharing experiences and information. … It brings that voice and experience of 19 other fire chiefs managing communities our size and up to Calgary and Edmonton. We see commonalities in the challenges we face and the solutions brought forward.”

The pandemic impacted all services across the country in some capacity and it saw delivery of a new rescue truck pushed back because of manufacturing delays.

The service also helped Canmore General Hospital erect a triage tent and forced training mostly to be done virtually, as opposed to in small groups, according to the report.

“I think people have really pulled together and really handled it well. We know it’s stressful for everyone,” Gahler said. “For us, we can’t train to the level we would like to with the same connections and the fire hall isn’t open to the public, but managing all the intricacies in the pandemic has been a challenge.

“But in the department and the community, the support has been fabulous. We’ve found ways to deliver our services as effectively, or even more effectively, and still provide a seamless high level of service. Our folks delivering it have been outstanding. I’m really proud of that.”

Call volume

2014: 513 (276 for Fire-Rescue, 237 medical)

2015: 592 (365 for Fire-Rescue, 227 medical)

2016: 549 (312 for Fire-Rescue, 237 medical)

2017: 660 (386 for Fire-Rescue, 274 medical)

2018: 586 (351 for Fire-Rescue, 235 medical)

2019: 628 (363 for Fire-Rescue, 265 medical)

2020: 662 (387 for Fire-Rescue, 275 medical)

Types of calls in 2020

Medical assistance: 275 (42 per cent)

Alarms: 188 (28 per cent)

Fires: 67 (10 per cent)

Motor vehicle collisions: 48 (seven per cent)

Other: 44 (seven per cent)

Rescue: 22 (three per cent)

Hazardous materials: 18 (three per cent)