CANMORE – The local fire station is spreading out its peak staffing budget in order to add a full-time firefighter during this global pandemic.
In a presentation to council on April 7, Canmore’s Fire Chief Walter Gahler said the department would be using its peak staffing summer budget for additional staffing in order to accommodate needs during COVID-19 coronavirus.
“In response to this pandemic, we decided to start peak staffing a little bit earlier and have readjusted the hours around when we’re running and one of the biggest challenges we’re finding in the fire rescue service is keeping everybody as healthy as possible,” said Gahler.
“With the 24/7 staffing here, right across the industry, we’re seeing that sick time for the isolation time that is required by AHS really cuts into staffing challenges.”
The Town of Canmore approved a peak staffing trial last year that would see the fire department's staff increased from two full-time firefighters to four during the months of July and August, and part of September.
While the local fire hall typically runs a two-person full-time crew, the fire truck requires four firefighters on board to get rolling for most emergency calls. When there are only two firefighters at the hall, the wait for the additional part-time staff to show up can be anywhere from a couple of minutes to 10 minutes, averaging at seven to eight minutes to be fully staffed – increasing the response time to 16 to 18 minutes. However, during the summer trial with peak staffing, the rollout time was 90-seconds, resulting in a seven to eight minute response average.
The same funding was approved again this year by council, which Gahler explained has now been divided up in order to add an extra firefighter starting Thursday (April 9) to aid with COVID-19 staffing needs.
“In response to this pandemic, we decided to start peak staffing a little bit earlier and have readjusted the hours around when we’re running,” he said.
“What we’ve done is taken the same budget amount that has been approved for May through September, and spread it out over the next two to three months. We’re adding one firefighter per shift, 24/7, from our casual pool and from that same budget amount, and that truck will respond immediately to all alarms and service calls.”
The biggest issue, Gahler said, has been ensuring everyone who comes in and out of the station remains healthy.
“One of the biggest challenges we’re finding in the fire rescue service is keeping everybody as healthy as possible,” he said.
“With the 24/7 staffing here, right across the industry, we’re seeing that sick time for the isolation time that is required by AHS really cuts into staffing challenges.
“[Adding an additional full-time firefighter] will cut our general pages down by approximately 60 per cent and our community firefighters will be responding to all significant events – fires, rescues, every time we need that additional staff.”
Mayor John Borrowman, called the plan “well-advised,” and asked if Gahler would be coming back to council for additional funding.
“The intent is to add one additional full-time firefighter or an extra firefighter per shift for two months, which is great. I think that’s a well-advised plan,” he said.
“But you know that will result in reduced funding for the expected staffing model in the summer. I’m just assuming that when we get to that point of discussion there may be a report requesting some additional funding to repeat the same program that we have so successfully administered last summer.”
A point Councillor Karen Marra asked about as well.
“I appear to be surrounded by some very capable hunter-gathers and we’re in pretty good shape. We’re set up appropriately for the next number of months, we don’t see significant pinch points for us at this point in time,” Gahler responded.
“[I plan to come to council with a report in] six to eight weeks at the longest as to how it’s going and letting this situation evolve in the community, as well recognizing that the entire town is certainly going to have some significant needs. I’ll be very careful with the budget recommendation going forward and we’re hoping to fully maximize the council approved budget that’s already in place to get us through the summer.”
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