Colwood Fire Department to introduce paid overnight shifts after 29 per cent jump in calls

Colwood Fire Department to introduce paid overnight shifts after 29 per cent jump in calls
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Colwood council has voted to introduce more paid firefighter positions in response to a 29 per cent increase in calls over five years, and a decline in volunteerism.

In a report to council, Colwood Fire Chief Bryan Erwin notes the department currently operates with a single staffed fire engine and four career firefighters between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., which allows the department to effectively respond to emergencies during these hours. Overnight responses are an on-call basis under the current model with volunteer firefighters.

In 2021 the department responded to 865 calls for service, 683 of which were emergency responses, according to the report. That’s a 29 per cent increase over the past five years, and 68 per cent increase over 10 years.

Erwin says under the current model response times during the day when the station is staffed are a good range, but overnight response times can vary.

“The challenges we meet are when we go back to that volunteer model after-hours, and I classify after hours as 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., that is where our response times are a little bit slower,” Erwin said.

“It’s also a challenge of uncertainty of who’s available because being in a volunteer fashion the way it works is a page would go out, and you may have one duty officer on one of the members may have a vehicle at home, but other than that everyone else has to respond back to the station.”

Part of the struggle with finding volunteer firefighters is due to the demands placed on those who pursue the work, according to Erwin.

“We’ve been experiencing a decline in volunteers and just mainly just due to demand that is on the volunteers to find that balance of fire department training, fire department call volume with that increasing, as well as obligations that they have to work, commitments to family, and it’s really a balance that they’re trying to find,” Erwin said.

“That’s been the struggle and that’s been kind of where the decline of volunteers in general has gone within the industry.”

There were three options before council and the paid-on-call night shift option was approved in a unanimous vote. This model will be phased in over multiple years.

The first phase would come this year, which would see all in station firefighters compensated at a flat nightly rate. The plan allows for one overnight staffed engine with four firefighters at an estimated expense of $198,800.

Next year, the second phase would introduce a pay per call for additional firefighters to support large scale or multiple call responses. The cost of this, as well as the ongoing night shift costs is $324,100 for the second year.

The third and final phase would implement an incentive of training pay for outside of shift training. The cost of this, plus the additions of the two previous years’ ongoing costs is estimated to be $397,900.

The department currently has 10 paid positions, according to Erwin, and this will increase the number of positions by four.

Erwin said the move will be a big change for the Colwood Fire Department.

“We have the full support of our membership,” Erwin said. “This is something that they came to the fire chief’s office with, they wanted to try and work with something to meet the demand that they’re feeling and this is a proposal that both parties feel is an excellent way to move forward.”

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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