Updating city council on the goings on of the Prince Albert Fire Department, Chief Les Karpluk brought to light some positive numbers and at least one major need.
One of the numbers he expressed the most pride in is the department’s consistent decline in lost work hours due to injuries since 2008.
“We’re going to get hurt, that’s just the nature of the business, but we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure our staff aren’t getting hurt,” Karpluk said during a presentation to council on Thursday.
In 2008, the department implemented a health and safety management program, which seems to be working, he said.
In 2012, the department reported 336 lost work hours due to injury, with the preceding years reporting 494, 528, 560 and 2,124 -- 2008’s figure an anomaly due to a few longer-term injuries.
On a somewhat related note, the department has also been spending more of their budget on training -- an expenditure Karpluk also cites as a sign of success.
In 2012, the department spent $83,680 on training, between in-classroom and boots-on-the-ground efforts. This is a significant jump from the $49,020 spent in 2008.
“This is a result of the master plan,” Karpluk said of the added focus on training. “The consultants came in they said that we had weaknesses and gaps in our training.”
This year, one focus is on confined space rescue – an effort the department’s recently hired deputy chief Jason Everitt will head alongside visiting trainers.
As for fire department needs, Karpluk reiterated the findings of four third-party reviews between 1985 and 2008; the city needs a fire department substation in the city’s southeastern quadrant.
Although they also need one near its southwest corner, the greatest need is to the east, making it a good starting point, Karpluk noted.
According to National Fire Protection Association, which sets guidelines for fire departments across North America, the local department is taking too long getting to certain areas of the city.
At Coombe Drive, at the city’s southeast corner, the department arrives two minutes and 57 seconds later than the association-set best practice, with crews pulling up by the time they should be initiating fire suppression techniques.
Complication matters is the issue of light weight trusses – a building technique that is estimated to be used in 50 per cent of new homes, of which there are many in that area of the city.
With these structures failing 35 to 60 per cent faster than solid wood assemblies, Karpluk said; “This is dangerous stuff, and it concerns us.”
The first substation wouldn’t require any additional staff, with one of two platoons at their current 15th Street East location moving over.
Although the department had tentatively selected a location for the substation, at RM of Prince Albert land off of 15th Avenue East and Marquis Road, it was called to question during Thursday’s meeting.
With the meeting meant to educate council, discussion around the substation will continue during future budgetary and city council meetings, as it has for decades.
“City council sets the level of service,” Karpluk said. “What I’m telling you is standards that we follow – we’re clearly not even close to meeting it.”
Karpluk is also requesting the hire of two more firefighters, since he currently has two 11-person platoons and two 12-person platoons. The two additional staffers would even things out.
With almost 88 per cent of the fire department’s budget spent on payroll and the Prince Albert Police Service’s payroll set at a similar percentage, Coun. Rick Orr closed the discussion with a warning to council.
With payroll increases in these two departments simply accepted by city council, pushing things further and further away from the realm of affordable, he suggested that council begin talks with unions to figure out how to lower costs.