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Chief Eric Arsenault says many of the 4,000 calls firefighters were responding to each year were not life-threatening. (CBC)

The Moncton Fire Department has cut back on the number of 911 calls it responds to by about 30 per cent.

Chief Eric Arsenault says the crews are still going out to all life-threatening situations because that's what they are trained to do.

But it's too dangerous to send a big, heavy fire truck racing down city streets to cases of broken ankles or other situations that can be handled by Ambulance New Brunswick, he said.

"Every time a fire truck leaves a fire station with lights and sirens [activated], it's dangerous. It's dangerous for the public and it's dangerous for the firefighters," said Arsenault.

The trucks can't stop easily when they are moving quickly and he wants to avoid the possibility of an accident if it's not a life or death situation, he said.

'If we can reduce the number of times that firefighters respond in an emergency mode, it does make it safer for everybody involved.' —Chief Eric Arsenault

"If we can reduce that risk, if we can reduce the number of times that firefighters respond in an emergency mode, it does make it safer for everybody involved," said Arsenault.

Moncton firefighters had been responding to as many as 4,000 emergency calls per year, he said.

The fire department started responding to 911 calls in 1996.

The idea was that with five fire stations spread out across the city, firefighters can cover 80 per cent of the greater Moncton area in four minutes or less, 80 per cent of the time. And that could make a difference for people suffering heart attacks or other situations where a fast response could save a life, said Arsenault.

But many of the calls were not really life-threatening, he said.

"If I trip and twist my ankle or break an arm, that's not the type of call that a firefighter necessarily can make a difference," he said.

By working with the 911 dispatchers, the fire department has reduced the number of calls to firefighters by nearly a third, he said.