British Columbia

Vancouver fire department marine unit moving out of Western Canada's busiest fire hall

Vancouver's specialized fire marine unit is moving out of Fire Hall No. 2 to a hall farther away from their boat because of concerns over mental health, and a lack of training time.

Mental health, and lack of training time among reasons fireboat operators moving out of Downtown Eastside

Vancouver's Fire Hall No. 2 had 750 call outs in December, making it one of the busiest halls in the country. (Google Maps)

Vancouver's specialized fireboat operators are moving out of their hall on the city's Downtown Eastside to a hall near the PNE — despite the fact it will mean their response times to fighting fires on the water will increase by several minutes. 

"That amount of time is fairly insignificant when we look at the overall response time," said Capt. Jonathan Gormick, public information officer for Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. 

Because fireboat operators must inspect their vessels before leaving the dock, response times are typically more than 12 minutes, Gormick noted.

No firm date has been set, but fireboat operators will likely move halls in February, Gormick said, when two new fireboats complete sea trials and arrive in Vancouver. 

Most non-specialized firefighters rotate through the city's fire halls throughout their career, but firefighters who are part of the marine unit are limited to two halls — in the West End and Downtown Eastside — and rotate between the two every two to three years.

Under the new system, fireboat operators will still rotate between two halls. Half will move to Fire Hall No. 12 in Kitsilano, where they will have a boat docked at Burrard Civic Marina.

The other half will still use the current dock at the foot of Main Street, but they will be based out a hall on the eastern edge of the city and out of the Downtown Eastside.

Extreme workload behind move

The move is intended to reduce what their union calls an extreme workload for the specialists.

Their current base at the No. 2 hall on Main Street averages about 25 calls a day, and is seen as one of the busiest in the country, says firefighters union vice-president Scott Hendrickson.

"Drug overdoses, motor vehicle accidents, pedestrians struck," Hendrickson said of typical calls at Fire Hall No. 2 at Main and Powell streets. "Incredible call volume, incredible workload, the stressors that you are dealing with on and off the job that you are taking home with you."

Hendrickson also says boat operators and instructors just don't have the time to complete government mandated training.

"There is no time to drill and perfect your role as a fire boat operator or instructor when you are down there at the busiest hall in the city."

So he commends the fire department for choosing the training requirements and mental health of firefighters over saving a few minutes on response times for marine fires.

"I don't think it will have enough of a negative effect on our response time to counteract the positives that it will have on the members," Hendrickson said.

Good for morale

The changes won't mean halls on the Downtown Eastside or West End will have fewer fire fighters the department says. It simply means the firefighters staffing the halls will not be part of specialized units, and won't have to keep returning to the halls once they transfer out.

The union says that's good for morale, and mental health.

"I don't want it to come off like you have to do your time at No. 2, because there are lot of us that get down there and enjoy doing it for a set time period. As long as you know there is an exit at the end of a time period it makes it a little easier to deal with," Hendrickson said.

"But when you are there for two years and you know you've got to come back for another two years, there is no real end in sight and you are taking that home with you."


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