Vancouver Fire Chief: Let’s get to work

Three weeks after Vancouver voters approved Proposition 2, a tax hike to improve fire services, Vancouver Fire Chief Brennan Blue is asking Vancouver City Council for additional funding to begin implementing implement the changes promised to voters.

At Monday’s meeting, Blue said his department could not tap into levy funds — which are expected to be $15 million a year — until 2023, and that the city’s budget did not have the capacity to start hiring their fire captains, doctors, firefighters and support staff.

To address this issue, Blue said, the city could modify its supplemental budget to include the first phase of hiring. He did not specify the amount needed to support these efforts.

“We want to make sure we’re transparent and proactive in sharing how (resources) are used and what results they produce,” City Manager Eric Holmes said.

Vancouver‘s “pay as you go” approach will roll out over the next decade, with every penny of Proposition 2 revenue going towards fire and emergency funds. The investments are intended to help improve emergency response times for priority calls within Vancouver’s established standard of 7 minutes and 59 seconds. In 2020, the average response time was 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

Each group of incoming firefighters is required to participate in a firefighter academy. This training will likely be the slowest part of the process, Blue said, as the fire department’s training division will be busy for the next two years. It will also put a strain on the training and law enforcement personnel who should be running the academies.

“The integration of staff (is) the main element. The device and the stations don’t matter if you don’t have people to answer,” Holmes said.

The additional resources would cover necessary call concurrency improvements, coverage expansion, fire response flexibility, construction of Stations 3 and 6, and upgrades to Stations 4, 5, and 8. Additional funds contribute administrative costs and maintenance of operations.

Ministry staff are designing the framework for squads and stations in 2022 and expect Station 11 to open in the fall, according to preliminary plans. Dates for new fire station construction projects are subject to change depending on revenue status, land acquisition, supply chain issues and general economic challenges, Holmes said.

Blue told council on Monday that the plan reflects the city’s climate action goals, particularly around meeting carbon emission standards, but it could impact facility costs early in the year. building.

There is also an internal effort to add diversity, equity and inclusion into the recruiting process to achieve departmental and city goals. Blue suggested reducing application and testing fees for applicants — which can run into the hundreds of dollars — by including them in the fire department’s base budget. This model replicates what some large fire departments do and would remove a financial barrier for applicants.

“If we can make (the process) cost-neutral for applicants, we think we could attract a better group of people from different backgrounds,” Blue said.

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