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Chilliwack Citizens for Change push city for more full-time firefighters

City hall says fire department is always evaluating ‘community risk,’ including staffing numbers
Chilliwack Fire Department is staffed by 40 career firefighters, and 135 paid on-call firefighters. (Chilliwack Progress file)

The idea that the Chilliwack Fire Department could use more full-time firefighters continues to percolate in the community.

Chilliwack Citizens for Change has taken up the charge, firing off a letter to council with an accompanying request for “a comprehensive risk-review” of fire protection, and to allocate more funding for full-time firefighters.

Fire department brass has responded to similar questions in the past by reassuring the public that all necessary risk-assessments have been undertaken for Chilliwack’s composite fire department, comprising both full-time firefighting staff, and paid on-call (POC) staff.

The department is staffed by 40 career firefighters, and 135 paid on-call firefighters.

This most recent letter from CCFC addressed to Chilliwack mayor and council garnered a rapid reply from city hall directing them back to Chilliwack Fire Chief Ian Josephson.

“Our fire department continually evaluates community risk, and utilizes evidence and data to inform decisions, including decisions about staffing levels,” wrote Mayor Ken Popove, in the city’s reply.

The crux of the argument for maintaining status quo is that more full-time staff is not required: “85% of our incidents and structure fires occur in the firehall 1 (Downtown) and firehall 4 (Sardis) geographic response zones,” according to the city’s web page. “We staff these firehalls 24/7/365 with full-time firefighters who receive 24/7/365 support from our 135 POC firefighters, dispatched from six strategically located firehalls.”

But the citizens’ group is pressing for another look nonetheless.

“With climate change fuelling tinder-dry conditions, much of B.C. on fire in the worst firefighting season on record, the province in a state of emergency, and a number of recent near misses involving interface fires on Chilliwack’s hillsides, climbing fire losses generally, and increased population and higher residential buildings, it’s time to take action,” according to the Aug. 25 letter signed by the Chilliwack Citizens for Change executive.

“As a community, we could be doing more, and the city should be leading the way and coordinating efforts.”

They are asking the city to: “protect our homes, businesses, parks, and trails from fire,” and to immediately retain an expert consultant of whom the firefighter’s union approves, to evaluate Chilliwack’s fire protection needs, hire the 60 additional full-time firefighters, along with the equipment and training those firefighters would need, including swift-water rescue, heavy rescue, high angle rescue, and medical capacity.

Members of the executive are asking city council to fund the fire department, based on advice from the Chilliwack Firefighters Association, local 2826.

The letter does not however include a cost estimate, and resulting tax increase forecast for Chilliwack for adding dozens more full-time firefighters to the fire department roster.

“There are no plans that we are aware of to expand the fire department, increase full-time staffing, training, equipment or build a new fire hall,” the letter-writers acknowledged. “We believe these measures, as recommended by the firefighters’ union, are essential to protect a city of more than 100,000 people. The firefighters themselves say they are struggling, and the department is operating at far below optimal levels. Why would the city not listen to citizens and firefighters?”

The union has recommended:

• 60 additional full-time firefighters,

• New fire hall near Highway 1,

• Swift-water rescue training, equipment,

• High-angle rescue training, equipment,

• Heavy rescue training, equipment,

• medical response capability.

RELATED: More full-time firefighters needed in Chilliwack

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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