Lethbridge will be getting eight new firefighters this year, with no impact to taxation after city council supported a recommendation from a Community Safety Standing Policy committee at its May 24 meeting.
The motion includes using $884,600 of budget appropriation unexpended (BAU) funds for the new staff’s 2022 wages and training. Ongoing costs of about $1 million to $1.3 million will be handled by Lethbridge Fire and EMS, using surplus funds, according to the city.
“We want to thank Lethbridge city council for their commitment to safety in our community,” said Greg Adair, Chief of Lethbridge Fire & EMS (LFES). “To ensure a sustainable, safe and effective fire/rescue response force, LFES must continue to move forward with the implementation of a parallel fire/EMS system. Moving to a parallel service requires additional personnel to maintain the current service level.”
The decision will result in a net increase of 21 firefighters, with he remaining being hired between 2023-2025.
Adair provided a presentation to the Community Safety Standing Policy Committee on May 12 where he said continuously changing Alberta Health Services (AHS) requirements and staff being off sick negatively impacted the city’s ability to respond to fire calls.
LFES entered into an AHS EMS contract in 2014 that allowed EMS resources to aid in fire suppression. This model is no longer effective as EMS resources are fully committed to EMS events, leaving very limited capacity to support the fire/rescue operations, according to the city. EMS contract negotiations with AHS will commence in the fall of 2022.
Coun. Jeff Carlson questioned Adair on how there are funds for right new firefighters already in the LFES budget.
“We have looked over the last five or so years and we looked at our budget and we have seen through vacancies that we have had, that we have had a surplus that we anticipate will be able to cover this,” Adair said. He added it is believed the costs will be covered for the full budget cycle until 2026.
“It’s not like he has got a slush fund of money that’s sitting around that is unspent,” said Coun. John Middleton-Hope. “These are funds that are actually provided back to the fire service as a result of injuries or as a result of sickness and accident claims. This is a completely appropriate method of utilizing those funds to backfill positions that are essentially vacant for a lengthy period of time.”