Langley Township firefighters asked the council to fund more hires, as they’ve slipped below the minimum four per engine. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley Township firefighters asked the council to fund more hires, as they’ve slipped below the minimum four per engine. (Langley Advance Times files)

Firefighters ask council to boost staffing for safety reasons

Engines are going out with fewer than the minimum four firefighters

Langley Township firefighters say they need more funding to safely staff the fire trucks heading out to fires and other emergencies.

Jordan Sparrow, president of the IAFF local 4550, which represents full-time firefighters, said a combination of injuries, illness, vacations, and stat holidays mean that it isn’t uncommon for fire engines to be dispatched with only three firefighters on board, instead of the industry standard of four.

“Unfortunately, fires don’t wait for our engines to be fully staffed,” Sparrow said.

As of mid-year, the Township was 3.9 firefighters short on average, Sparrow said. Some halls would have enough firefighters to send out fully-crewed engines, while others won’t, and that fluctuates across the year.

Last year, the situation was worse as a significant number of firefighters contacted COVID-19 while they were on the job, and had to take weeks off to recover.

Crews need a minimum of four members if firefighters have to enter a building, Sparrow explained. Two firefighters always enter together wearing breathing gear, one stays outside and is prepared to perform a rescue, and one has to operate the pump on the engine.

Sparrow said the union has already spoken to Township Fire Chief Stephen Gamble, as well as senior staff members at the Township, and wants to work collaboratively on increasing staffing so that every engine can have a full four firefighters 100 per cent of the time.

“This comes down to firefighter safety,” he said.

Council voted unanimously to ask staff for more information on the matter, as well as sending it to the budget planning process for next year.

“I know it’s safety, but it always boils down to the budget,” said Mayor Jack Froese.

Councillors asked questions about the staffing needs for the future, with Councillor Steve Ferguson asking about geographical isolation of the Aldergrove fire hall, while Coun. Petrina Arnason asked about whether more crews and training will be needed as highrises are about to be built in the Township.

“Highrise buildings are a whole different animal,” Sparrow said.

Existing firefighters would need new training for rescues above 75 feet.

“Those are conversations that we know the fire chief is open to, and we know those high rise buildings are on the horizon, and now is the time to start,” Sparrow said.

Councillor Bob Long, who made the motion to get staff working on info for staffing needs, said it was time to get the ball rolling on the issue.

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