Calgary council upholds 7-minute fire response time target

City council has decided to uphold the city's seven-minute response time target for fire service across Calgary.

Council was considering a motion to allow 10-minute response times in some new communities

City council has decided to uphold the city's seven minute response time target for fire service across Calgary. (David Bell/CBC)

City council has decided to uphold the city's seven-minute response time target for fire service across Calgary.

Council was looking at a proposal Tuesday to vary that target to 10 minutes for future new communities because the city can't afford to put a fully-staffed fire station in every new area that might be approved for development.

When the issue was discussed recently by a council committee, fire Chief Steve Dongworth said he could not support the 10-minute target because it would result in a higher risk for people, property and the environment.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that while communities acquire more city services as they build out, emergency services like basic fire protection and medical emergency response just aren't the same as transit or other things provided by the city.

"We cannot build a fire hall when you put the first house into a new neighbourhood so we have to allow for some flexibility around this, provided that there is a plan to get to some level of service," said Nenshi.

There have been concerns that the seven-minute standard could mean fire stations going up in sparsely populated areas. Not everyone was sold on a new response target for future developing areas.

Coun. Ward Sutherland said he didn't understand the need for separate response times. (CBC)

Coun. Ward Sutherland said he wasn't sure why a separate target was needed because as new communities build-out, the fire station does go in as the need for service to meet the seven-minute target increases.

"I'm really disappointed that the conversation of two-tier has come up because to be honest. It's disingenuous," said Sutherland.

"This has never been an issue before," he pointed out, saying that a station is built when it is needed.

Following a lengthy debate, council chose to amend the plan.

It decided to maintain the seven-minute target citywide.

Not just about fires

However, when it comes time to pick which communities are developed next, council directed administration to look at strategies that would achieve the seven-minute target as a new community builds out.

Previously, that strategy wasn't in place prior to construction starting in a new community.

And it's not just about fires, because nearly half the calls to the fire department are actually medical related. They often arrive before paramedics and can provide initial treatment prior to EMS arriving on scene to do their work.

During the debate, Nenshi recalled how important a timely fire response was for his late father.

"When my dad fell and hit his head, he would have bled out if our colleagues from the Calgary Fire Department had not been there in under five minutes," said Nenshi.

"Dad got 10 more years because the firefighters were there."

Not all new communities present the same issues.  

For example, some communities are built next to an existing community and can still fall within the seven-minute response target.

However, some new areas that may be developing in coming years are located outside the ring road.

In some cases, fire trucks might actually have to be driven outside Calgary for crews to get to the scene of an emergency.