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Consultant recommends Maple Ridge hire 25 more firefighters, build new hall

Fire Protection Master Plan will be debated by council in July
Firefighters take a breather during the fight against downtown fires on June 10. Their professionalism was praised by a consultant, who said the city needs to hire 25 more firefighters, plus officers and inspectors. (Brandon Tucker/The News)

A consultant has told the City of Maple Ridge it should invest more in fire protection, to pay for additional firefighters and a new fire hall, over the coming years.

Ernie Polsom of FireWise Consulting spoke to city council during its morning workshop on June 13. It was an information session, and no decisions were made, but the Fire Protection Master Plan will be back on council’s agenda in the coming weeks.

Polsom outlined that the city is growing fast, has increasing challenges retaining paid-on-call (POC) firefighters, and is not meeting its targets for response.

Polsom said the fire department set benchmarks for performance, but explained: “The fire department’s ability to meet those performance metrics is reducing every year, and has been for some time.”

He spoke to first engine response – which refers to the time it takes from receiving a call to having four firefighters and a fire truck on scene.

Looking at 2022 performance, Station 1 met the local standard about 73 per cent of the time, Station 2 – 62 per cent, Station 3 – 69 per cent and Station 4 – 51 per cent. The overall performance in 2022 saw the standard met 69 per cent of the time.

In the effective response force – which measures having enough people to safely manage a single family house fire in a specified time, overall performance standards were met just 42 per cent of the time.

“What that tells you is there’s a problem. We’re not getting there soon enough, and we’re not getting there with sufficient numbers of people. That’s a big deal,” said Polsom.

One of the reasons, he said, is challenges with recruitment and retention of POC members – an issue for fire departments nationwide.

There has to be a complete re-think of the balance between career firefighters and POCs in the city, he said.

The stats show firefighters are hired and trained, but then leave. In 2021, the fire department hired 17 POCs and 31 departed. In 2022, they hired 25 POCs and 29 departed. This year they have hired 26 POCs, and three have departed so far.

The city last wrote a Fire Services Master Plan in 2003, and in 2005 moved to a composite delivery model combining full-time firefighters and POCs, said Fire Chief Michael Van Dop.

The department has 11 career firefights on duty, across three locations at Halls One, Three and Four.

The consultant recommends increasing the minimum daily staffing from 11 people to 16, which means hiring 25 additional career firefighters, within three years.

Polsom said fire services is short on senior management positions, and needs one new chief officer, and two additional assistant chiefs.

“Complex organizations don’t lead themselves,” he said.

He said the city needs four dedicated fire inspectors, where there are none now.

He also recommends a new fire station to serve the area north of the Alouette river, the growing Silver Valley neighbourhood, by 2028.

Polsom noted the cost for fire services per capita in Maple Ridge is $152 and city is “way below” comparables. Victoria $196, North Vancouver $208, New Westminster $231, Kelowna $201.

However, the cost for fire services per dwelling unit of $422, which is closer to the average – $366 in Victoria, $417 in North Vancouver, $499 in New West and $467 in Kelowna.

Polson said the firefighters do a great job, and referred to the their recent work on a massive fire that burned two downtown apartments on Edge and Brown Streets on Friday night.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge downtown fire will have environmental impacts

“You got to see the professionalism on display at that fire scene over the weekend. They’re amazing. They just do a remarkable job, and will continue to do so for you.”

When a new fire protection master plan is approved, a financial plan will be built into the city budget, starting in 2024, said staff.

Coun. Judy Dueck noted she was part of 2003 master plan process, and said the city needs to update more regularly than every 20 years.

Mayor Dan Ruimy noted the issue will be back before council at committee of the whole, and regular council, over the coming weeks for more discussion and debate.

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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