New Brunswick

Miramichi firefighters union raises staffing fears

Public safety in Miramichi is at risk because of chronic understaffing of the Miramichi Fire Department, says the president of the firefighters union.

Mayor Gerry Cormier takes concerns about staffing levels seriously and pledges to follow up

The union representing firefighters in Miramichi is raising concerns about chronic understaffing at local fire stations. (Miramichi Fire Department/Facebook)

Public safety in Miramichi is at risk because of chronic understaffing of the Miramichi Fire Department, says the president of the firefighters union.

Frank Roche has been tweeting about the issue and is asking the city's mayor to step in to ensure there are always two firefighters on duty in each of the city's two fire stations.

"In the past … few months it's become more the norm that there's only one firefighter working at one of the stations," said Roche, who is the president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5087.

Roche said there are currently 20 professional firefighters in the Miramichi union but there should be at least 32 in order to cover all of the shifts with a minimum of two firefighters in each of the two stations at all times.

"The more staff members we can get the better — I'd never put a cap on it but the reality is there's a financial aspect to it and the taxpayers have to bear the burden of that. Ideally there'd be four per station."

Ideally there'd be four per station.- Frank Roche, president IAFF Local 5087

​Roche isn't sure what is causing the chronic staffing shortage but says it's being made worse by the fact  the department can no longer count on volunteers to step in to help when calls come in.

"It's not just a Miramichi issue, it's a nation-wide issue that the recruitment and retention of all volunteers isn't as easy as it used to be," Roche said.

"People are busy they have families, they're working ... we got a lot of guys working out west so it's really hard to retain volunteers."​

Mayor hears concerns

Miramichi Mayor Gerry Cormier said he will look into concerns about understaffing at the Miramichi Fire Department. ((CBC))
Miramichi Mayor Gerry Cormier says he is taking the concerns seriously, and plans to speak to the fire chief and the city manager this week and bring the issue to council.

"We want the fire department to be well-staffed," Cormier said.

"My concern is the safety of the city of Miramichi and the citizens and if we have to do something we will address it."

'Helpless feeling'

Roche also said there is a lot of anxiety that goes with being alone at a fire hall, particularly during a nightshift.

"When all you have is the idea that if the call comes in, 'What am I going to do because I am by myself?' It definitely adds to the possibility of burnout and PTSD."

Roche has responded to serious calls alone and says it is a "helpless feeling."

"There's really not a lot you can do until more members come to assist you, so it's not safe for us, it's not safe for the public and it's an issue that's got to be addressed," he said.

"If there happens to be someone stranded or stuck in a building — you're by yourself and as a firefighter you're going to make the attempt to save them which puts everybody's life in danger."

with files from Matthew Bingley