British Columbia

Vancouver firefighters say overdose calls draining resources

The union representing Vancouver firefighters says more resources are needed downtown to keep up with the increased number of calls stemming from the fentanyl overdose crisis.

Last month, firefighters on the Downtown Eastside responded to a record 1,255 incidents

Paramedics and firefighters work to revive an overdose patient. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

The union representing Vancouver firefighters says more resources are needed downtown to keep up with the increased number of calls stemming from the fentanyl overdose crisis.

Last month firefighters responded to a record 1255 incidents in the Downtown Eastside, according to Robert Weeks, the president of IAFF Local 18, the union representing Vancouver Firefighters.

That's double what it was during the same period last year, he notes.

"To give you some perspective, that puts us at the busiest fire hall in Canada by a long shot," said Weeks.

That number includes responding to fires and medical incidents, but the increase is mostly due to the spike in overdoses, he said.

"The firefighters in that fire hall —  the men and women — are really over-taxed. They're not able to complete even their basic tasks."

As the crisis shows no sign of slowing down, firefighters are calling on the city to help out with more resources at the Main Street fire hall.

"We are on the frontline of this public health emergency and need additional firefighters on the street to help save lives."

Other parts of the city at risk

Weeks also has concerns that all of the overdose calls are leaving other parts of the city at risk, as resources are shifted to respond to medical calls.

"The recent decisions to take fire trucks from the Granville-Fairview and Sunrise communities to temporarily up staff the Downtown Eastside is putting the public at risk."

"Parts of the city are being left without the fire-fighting coverage they are paying for," he said.

Weeks notes the city still has 1,500 fires a year on average, even though the number has been declining for nearly a decade.

"At the bare minimum we're asking for another apparatus to be stationed out of that fire hall to help alleviate the call volume for the other two fire trucks."

On Nov. 24, Mayor Gregor Robertson conducted a ride-along with a Vancouver Fire and Rescue unit to witness firsthand the impact of the fentanyl crisis on the city.

He called the crisis "horrific" and pledged to deploy more resources to support front-line workers.

The city said it will be requesting approval for funding at Wednesday's 2017 draft budget presentation. It will be requesting an additional three-person fire and rescue unit to support the Downtown Eastside as well enhanced mental health support for firefighters.

With files from Farrah Merali

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