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Common Council approves plan to reduce fire service budget with the closure of a fire station and reduction to the workforce

22-Jun-2020

Common Council today approved the closure of one of the City’s seven fire stations, and a reduction of 24 firefighters, primarily through natural attrition, to help achieve the City’s goal of balancing the budget for 2021. 

“We are putting the best interest of taxpayers first and are on our way to getting the City in a stronger financial position where we can better afford the services we offer,” said Mayor Don Darling. 

The reductions announced for the fire service are part of the broader City of Saint John action plan to address the projected $10 million budget deficit in 2021. Council directed the City Manager to address sixty per cent of the savings through workforce adjustments and personnel policy changes. The savings are spread out across all City workforce groups, including management, fire, police, inside workers, outside workers and transit.

“While these decisions are never easy, Council has been clear in its commitment to control costs,” said City Manager John Collin. “The goal is to realign the delivery of quality municipal services on a smaller, affordable budget.”

For the Saint John Fire Department, this means a reduction of $1.875 million from its annual $24.9 million budget.  The plan, as detailed by City Manager Collin, includes the closure of #8 Fire Station on Millidge Avenue, which is one of two stations located in the City’s north end. The nearest station, #5 Station on Adelaide Street, will remain open and is 2.6 kms away. The Fire Department will also reduce its service by 24 positions (12 full-time equivalents and 12 holiday relief positions).

“We believe we can reach the required savings with the measures approved by Council this evening,” said Collin. “In terms of a timeline, the fire station will close this year, and the reduction in positions will be achieved through natural attrition, to the extent possible, and as soon as possible.”

Plans to reduce City management positions, and the inside workforce have already been approved by Council. A new four-year contract agreement with the outside workforce, CUPE Local 18, was approved by both parties the week of June 7, 2020, and also includes a reduction in positions and cost savings for the City. Transit and police budget reductions, totalling $850,000 and $1.3 million respectively, will be achieved through decisions of the respective commissions in time for January 1, 2021. 

When speaking to the announced reductions in the fire service, Chief Kevin Clifford says, “When faced with our financial situation, difficult decisions are necessary. Our plan supports the City’s need to address the projected $10 million budget deficit, and focuses on reductions that have the least impact to our community.” 

In the report to Council, Collin detailed the new staffing model for the fire service, saying, “The model will take us from our current operation having eight units 50 per cent of the time, and seven units 50 per cent of the time, to seven fire response units over 90 per cent of the time”.   

Clifford acknowledged that even under the new model, reductions to the fire service could have some impact on response times. On rare occasions, it may also challenge firefighter capacity to deal with large events or simultaneous calls. However, the crews, dispatch and the leadership of the fire department are all trained to prioritize work and deal most effectively with various scenarios as they present themselves.  

A key element of the staff recommendation was the inclusion of a fire service review.  This review would develop a 15-year strategy that would recommend the best possible and affordable fire service for Saint John. It would not only look at structure but also at other key initiatives to make best use of limited resources. 

“There will be staffing and some service-level impacts across the organization,” added Clifford. “Despite the challenges inherent to the service reductions, the Saint John Fire Department will continue to provide an effective and professional fire service, staffed with exceptional public servants with a world class commitment to public safety.”

A date for the closure of #8 Fire Station will be announced once a transition plan is in place.

Background information:

Staffing within the Saint John Fire Department currently (as of June 22, 2020) includes 136 full-time firefighters and 22 holiday relief (of budgeted for 32), with a fire chief, two deputy chiefs, two divisional chiefs, and four platoon chiefs. The service also includes four fire prevention officers, and three emergency services training officers. 
The approved 2020 Fire Department budget is $24.9 million, which represents roughly 15 per cent of the City’s operating budget.
In 2021, and as part of the City’s sustainability plan, Saint John will recover some of its costs through the implementation of fees for non-emergency services and fire services.
o Non-emergency services: Recover costs for things like false alarms, invalid fire alarm and suppression systems, stand-by services, non-fire service requests, and non-emergency rapid entry system access. Services for non-profits, like liquor licence inspections for special occasions and events will not be included. Projected revenue: $30,000 
o Fire services: With a focus on commercial and industrial incidents and those involving non-residents, the proposal would recover costs related to fire-related incidents, such as fire rescue and suppression, hazardous materials response (within the city), technical rescue, motor vehicle accidents, and other agency response requests. The Fire Chief would be given some discretion in billing for fees. It would also include fees to Saint John residents for incidents such as thrill-seeking, recklessness, and neglect. Projected revenue: $90,000 

 

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