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Quebec fire chiefs sound alarm about possible shortage of firefighters

The group is launching a survey to determine future staffing levels and figure out how far off the industry may be from a more severe shortage that could impact the safety of citizens.

Association warns serious shortage could result in gaps of service and longer response times

The shortage is felt more strongly in remote regions where recruitment is more difficult. (Radio-Canada/Jean-François Deschênes)

Members of the association representing Quebec's fire chiefs are sounding the alarm that their industry may be on the cusp of a worker shortage, especially for part-time positions and in more remote regions of Quebec.

The group is launching a survey to determine future staffing levels and figure out how close the industry may be from a more severe shortage.  

The vice-president of the Quebec Fire Chiefs' Association and fire prevention chief for Laval, Chantal Bibeau, said a serious shortage could result in gaps of service and longer response times in the event of a fire.

"It has to do with their capacity to give citizens the proper security service," she said.

Bibeau said current crews are meeting the needs of communities, but that they can't afford to lose any employees.

Harder to recruit in the regions

Smaller and more remote municipalities are at a greater risk, because it's harder to recruit people in the regions and the stations cover larger areas.

Jimmy Marceau, the director of the Matanie regional fire service, told Radio-Canada that he has 66 part-time firefighters, but he needs about 30 more to be able to serve the entire region properly and with adequate response time.

Recruitment is especially challenging because even part-time firefighters require 300 hours of training, and if they're trying to fulfill the requirements while working another job, they must do so during evenings and weekends.

They also need to meet the on-call requirements while juggling another job.

The Quebec Fire Chiefs' Association is working with the Public Security ministry to figure out solutions before the situation worsens. (Radio-Canada/Jean-François Deschênes)

"If they're on a job on a Wednesday afternoon and there's a fire or there's a call, they need to leave their job, pick up their car, go to the fire station, pick up the truck, and go to the fire," said Bibeau.

"There are a bunch of different issues that are difficult and that need to be worked out."

Alternatively, people who do seasonal work and want to work as a firefighter during their off-season could compromise their EI payments.

Possible solutions

Bibeau said the Quebec Fire Chiefs' Association is working to find solutions before the situation worsens.

"We think for firefighters who are willing to do the training and willing to be available, there should be some modalities that are appropriate for them," she said.

Among their suggestions are giving exceptions for people who work seasonal jobs, and group together fire services to pool resources.

Bibeau said the Ministry of Public Security is aware of the problem and that her organization has been in touch with the ministry to figure out solutions.

With files from Radio-Canada