Fort Saskatchewan fire department short-staffed: union

A relatively young fire department northeast of Edmonton is feeling the pain of serving a growing community, with its union going so far as to say it was understaffed as it battled two fires in the late week.

Flames engulfed a daycare center and a dental office on 99th Avenue on Sunday. It took about 10 firefighters – four of whom were from the Strathcona County Fire Department – ​​about two hours to bring the blaze under control.

Darrick Graff, president of the Fort Saskatchewan Firefighters Association, said the department had “a very small number of personnel” on the scene, calling the scale of the response “below industry standards and recommendations. “.

So did he, he told CTV News Edmonton, of responding to a second garage fire on Sunday.

According to Fire Chief Todd Martens, Fort Saskatchewan’s policy is to have four employees on duty 24 hours a day, supported by paid on-call and casual members. A total of 25 part-time members are on the department’s payroll, which was all-volunteer just three years ago.

The current composite model consists of a mutual aid relationship and apportionment agreement with Strathcona County.

Martens says the Fort Saskatchewan Fire Department isn’t as robust as the National Fire Protection Association recommends, but he noted those guidelines aren’t legislated.

“I would disagree that they were understaffed, Martens said of the weekend firefighters. “The city has a policy in place and we are currently adhering to that policy.”

Graff thinks the problem is a greater demand for resources: Over the past decade, Fort Saskatchewan’s population has grown by more than 10%, from 21,100 in 2012 to 27,600 in 2021.

“We have to remember that we don’t just respond to fires. There are medical incidents in the community, we also do motor vehicle accidents, water rescues. It also takes away those responses,” Graff said. .

“Ultimately it comes down to our safety when we witness these incidents. We are able to mitigate them, but it takes away from the rest of our response and also puts our safety at risk.”

Martens acknowledged that the department is new and challenged by its model, which sometimes sees firefighters called from home.

“Being so new, that’s really what we’re looking to revisit: What is the right level of service for the City of Fort Saskatchewan? Martens commented.

“Until we complete these studies and have a solid document to guide us going forward, it’s hard for us to say if four is right, seven is right, 10 is right.”

Through work on a Fire Services Master Plan, Martens said the city will review staffing levels, service levels and other specialized programs provided by firefighters.

Regarding Sunday’s largest fire, the department is working with the RCMP to investigate whether it is suspicious. Officials say it could be arson.

With files from CTV Edmonton’s Joe Scarpelli and Adam Lachacz