Calgary Fire Department changes could add up to millions in savings, says city

A value-for-money audit of the fire department comes up with ways to save millions of dollars, but some on city council want to know if that can be done without affecting public safety.

Review calls for slimmer management, change in firefighter deployment

How the Calgary Fire Department deploys resources will be the topic of discussion at a city committee meeting Tuesday. ( Mike Symington)

A report done for city council recommends a number of changes to the Calgary Fire Department that could save millions of dollars in operating costs.

The report is part of a wider examination of how city departments do their job and whether they can do that work more efficiently.

The report on the Calgary Fire Department, done by an outside consultant, makes 34 recommendations. If all are implemented, the city could save up to $16 million. However, some of the recommendations could be politically sensitive.

For example, politicians would have to grapple with the implications of changing where firetrucks are deployed and when.

Even before the priorities and finance committee discusses the report on Tuesday, city administration has rejected some recommendations in the report.

It's against reducing the number of firefighters from four to three on initial response to fire calls. Administration is also opposed to closing five existing fire stations. 

However, it's open to the possibility of what's called "dynamic deployment," which could mean that some fire stations with fewer calls would not be staffed at the same level 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Coun. Ward Sutherland wants to know more about the possible risks of that before committing to anything.

'It's a sensitive topic'

"When we're talking about public safety, you're always talking about risk management. It's a sensitive topic," said Sutherland.

But another councillor feels it's worth having the conversation about what kind of fire service Calgarians want. 

Ward 12's Shane Keating said no one is talking about reducing existing service, but it might mean different levels of service as people move into new communities of the future.

"If people are educated — that if they're moving to an area, here's a set of criteria and why that criteria was established — and if they're willing to accept that, then that's their choice," said Keating.

Some councillors are in agreement with a proposed reduction in senior management. The review found there are 16 top managers in the CFD including the chief, deputy chiefs and assistant deputy chiefs. This compares to nine people in leadership positions in Ottawa, seven in Montreal and six in cities like Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

Administration is recommending five senior positions be cut by 2018, which could save the city $1 million a year.

The report also recommends a reduction in how many weeks of training given to firefighter recruits before they're placed on the job, and it suggests the city could make money by offering up its training facilities to other fire departments.