The suggestion that a recent cut to part of the Fire Department budget is putting our firefighters or the public at risk is ludicrous. Given the short clips used in media coverage, I feel the need to follow-up with more context.
We value the work that our firefighters do and take great pride in that they are all properly trained, professional individuals who are passionate about their work and dedicated to improving the city and keeping our citizens and visitors safe.
We have to be smart with the money we have to spend in the department. We were asked to reduce our proposed 2016 budget by five percent. This did result in a reduction of about $17,243 from what was spent on training last year ($57,694) and what is budgeted for training this year ($40,451).
Charlottetown firefighters will receive all of the training necessary to do their jobs safely and professionally this year as they have in past year and will continue to in future years. The deduction to the training budget does not affect critical or annually required training. It reduces off-Island travel for conferences and conventions for 2016 and ensures that funding is only spent on training that is necessary for the job. For example, we currently have five new recruit firefighters receiving their Level 1 at the Fire training school.
What we’ve done is look at where we could find savings without affecting operations or impacting the health and safety of our firefighters or the public. By being smarter with tax payers’ money, we are able to do more. We’ve been able to afford new turnout gear and station wear, thermal imaging cameras and rapid intervention team (RIT) paks, along with a mass notification system that will help the entire city by improving the way we communicate with the public and with our firefighters. We are also bringing in a new radio system with increased firefighter safety features.
If you look at the budget line for the Fire Department, there’s actually an overall increase of $111,805 since 2015. Our budget was $3,623,147 in 2015 and is $3,734,952 for 2016. This is an increase that has allowed us to avoid negatively impacting operations, while still covering necessary training, some new initiatives, and salary increases for unionized firefighters and staff as well as volunteer firefighters.
The reduction to our proposed budget for 2016 did mean that we had to make the decision to eliminate the 2016 Firefighters’ Ball, an event that typically costs about $22,000. We know this isn’t a popular decision as it was an event that we enjoyed and our firefighters enjoyed and appreciated. We still plan to recognize the hard work and dedication of our firefighters, but will need to work together to find a more cost-effective way to do that this year.
Another issue that was raised in the recent media coverage was that the City didn’t invest in specialized washer for the station to clean turnout gear. It certainly would have been more convenient to have a washer and dryer at the station, but it would have cost approximately $43,500. We currently take care of cleaning the turnout gear in-house after every incident, as needed, and clean it professionally when conditions require it. The gear is also inspected by a third party agency and gear that doesn’t pass inspection is decommissioned.
We would never intentionally put any of our firefighters or prevention staff at risk, any more than this job already asks of them in terms of fighting fires and responding to emergencies. We will continue to work together to promote fire safety, provide emergency services, supress fires, handle hazardous materials mitigation, perform rescues, assist Island EMS and conduct fire investigations safely, effectively, and efficiently. The men and women of the Charlottetown Fire Department are first-class professionals and I am proud to stand with them and to support the important work that they do every day, here in Charlottetown.
Charlottetown Fire Chief
City of Charlottetown