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Fire and rescue services in Alberta hit with $500K cut

The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association is protesting a cut by the province it says will affect the way municipalities train firefighters and respond to emergencies.

Water and ice rescues could suffer, fire chiefs association say

Rescue crews pulled a woman out of Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River in spring, 2018. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association is protesting a cut by the province it says will affect the way municipalities train firefighters and respond to emergencies.

The $500,000 clawback to fire departments will force municipalities to choose the level of service they can offer the community, the association said in a press release sent Friday.

While municipalities budget for basic training, the half a million-dollar grant is used to train firefighters for specialized tasks, said Fred Tyrrell, executive director of the AFCA.

Those jobs include driving a fire truck, operating a water pump and responding to water and ice rescues.

Other areas of advanced training include high-angle rescue and urban search and rescue, Tyrrell added, which are recognized under the National Fire Protection Association.

"Those smaller municipalities may not have the municipal budget to provide for the training," he said. 

He said with the grant being discontinued, municipalities will have to evaluate which services can be removed from their response-capability list. 

"A community that has a lot of water bodies may have said 'we're a small department but we need to train our men and women in both fast water and ice rescue," he said. "Now that municipality will have to take a sober second look and say 'do we continue to provide that service or do we tell our ratepayers we do not provide that service any longer?' 

The AFCA is made up of 460 departments, about 95 per cent of the fire services in Alberta. 

In a statement emailed to CBC News, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs said local governments are responsible for funding fire services and training.

"Given this, we have dissolved a small training grant that was developed in better economic times," the statement reads. 

"We value the tremendous work firefighters do and continue to work with municipalities across the province to ensure public safety is protected."

Tyrrell said about 80 per cent of the firefighters in Alberta are volunteers and paid on-call members.

"These are men and women who have regular day jobs. Their employers let them leave those day jobs to respond to a community emergency."

The AFCA is divided into regions with the cities of Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc and St. Albert part of central region 2, along with towns of Beaumont, Devon, Morinville and Whitecourt.

Tyrrell said the AFCA has requested a meeting with the deputy minister of Municipal Affairs and will request a meeting with Minister Kaycee Madu. 

The AFCA is also encouraging its members to approach their local MLAs to raise concerns. 

Tyrrell said the AFCA will work with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta to advocate on behalf of the volunteers and other firefighters.  
 

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