Lethbridge is looking to hire eight new firefighters to combat ongoing staffing challenges. Fire Chief Greg Adair provided a presentation to the city’s Community Safety Standing Policy Committee on May 12, where he said continuously changing Alberta Health Services (AHS) requirements and staff being off sick have negatively impacted the city’s ability to respond to fire calls.
“We are seeing higher numbers of mental injury and individuals who are off with mental injury, PTSD, than we have seen in a long time. I would suggest this is a provincial challenge that is going on,” Adair said. “We are seeing a high number of individuals who are struggling or who are off for a number of reasons but what I can tell you is we are actually trying to be very creative and proactive and help these individuals through these times to get them back to work.
Since 2015, EMS calls have increased 47 per cent and there has been a 20 per cent increase in long-distance transfer calls, Adair said.
“Every time we go on a long distance transfer, that’s four to eight hours we take one of our resources outside of the city,” he said. “In 2015 we were seeing an average of about 13,000 EMS calls — now we are up to nearly 21,000 calls.”
Adair presented four options to the committee, including segregating fire and EMS services, not taking EMS contacts from AHS and keeping the status quo of integrated service with staffing issues. The preferred option, which got support from the committee, was to hire eight new firefighters this year.
“What that means is we would still be an integrated fire/EMS service but we would have adequate fire resourcing to ensure we could respond [with an] effective response force to fire events,” he said.
The new staff’s training and 2022 wages, totaling $884,600, are to be funded through Budget Appropriation Unexpended (BAU) funds. “From 2023 and the next budget cycle, we would use our operating surplus to fund these positions. So out of these eight positions, we would not be looking at any additional tax support,” Adair said.
The option includes a total of 21 new firefighters — the remaining 13 positions would be hired between 2023-2025, with funding coming from AHS contract revenue. Ongoing costs of the recruits are to be absorbed by Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services (LFES), approximately $1 million – $1.3 million per year, according to a city staff report.
Coun. John Middleton-Hope expressed concern the positions could result in impacts to taxation if the plan does not work out.
The final motion which is to be sent to city council for approval includes a recommendation to recognize ongoing mitigating efforts to reduce any future impact on taxation for the 2023-2026 operating budget.