Mayor Bill Dingwall explained that there is a value in having the fire department attend other emergency scenes, not just fires. (Mike Larsson/The News)

Mayor Bill Dingwall explained that there is a value in having the fire department attend other emergency scenes, not just fires. (Mike Larsson/The News)

Pitt Meadows fire fails to meet NFPA standards according to local union

‘I strongly disagree with the volunteer-based model,’ said Mayor Bill Dingwall

While the current paramedic shortage in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows has been the subject of much public scrutiny lately, the Pitt Meadows Fire & Rescue Service (PMFRS) has also been suffering its own shortages.

On Aug. 25, the IAFF Local 4810 union for Pitt Meadows firefighters sounded the alarm across their various social media accounts that PMFRS doesn’t meet the current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 standards.

The NFPA standards is a group of guidelines based on scientific research that demonstrate what is needed from a fire department in order to quickly and safely respond to emergencies.

According to the NFPA 1710 standards, a minimum of four firefighters are needed per truck, with the first truck on-scene within four minutes of the emergency call.

These standards also explain the number of firefighters that need to be dispatched to each type of building fire.

• 15 firefighters for a single-family house

• 28 firefighters for a garden apartment or strip shopping centre

• 43 firefighters for any buildings seven stories or taller

PMFRS Fire Chief Mike Larsson argues that their department shouldn’t even be judged by 1710 standards.

“Being a composite department we use NFPA 1720 as a guideline,” said Larsson. “This requires a minimum of 15 firefighters to respond to residential structure fires, something that we have historically achieved here in Pitt Meadows.”

Currently, the PMFRS has only eight full-time career firefighters that work seven days per week on a rotating schedule of four days on and four days off.

IAFF Local 4810 union explained that between staff vacations, sick days, and other absences, “it is very common to have a crew reduced in size to three and sometimes even two members with no callback of staff to fill the seats.”

From 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day, PMFRS has zero career firefighters on staff and solely relies on their paid-on-call volunteer service, which consists of an assistant chief, three captains, four lieutenants, and 40 volunteer firefighters.

RELATED: Work to begin on new Pitt Meadows firehall

Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall explained that this volunteer-based model is just no longer effective.

“For years, Pitt Meadows relied on volunteers to run their fire department, and it worked well for a long time,” said Dingwall. “We had people who were staying on as volunteers for 20 to 30 years. But now, it’s become much harder to get and keep volunteers. There’s lots of job availability, so we’re in a position where we’re losing a lot of volunteers to the larger departments in Metro Vancouver.”

The Pitt Meadows firefighters union shared a similar viewpoint, explaining that a paid-on-call model hurts both the firehall staff and the public.

“Pitt Meadows needs to refocus its strategies and be investing tax dollars into training and developing career firefighters that will stay and serve this city for their entire careers helping the department meet industry standards,” said the union. “Let’s hire our paid-on-call firefighters as full-time career staff, keep them where they applied, and not be a training ground for others.”

The union continued by saying that there’s a safety component to making this department change as well as the financial burden associated with relying on volunteers.

“Reliance on a volunteer/paid-on-call model where trucks are sitting waiting for firefighters to arrive before leaving the hall creates significant delays in responding to incidents, which can put not only the public at greater risk, but also the firefighters when arriving on scene,” said the union. “Having a properly staffed fire truck(s) arriving safely on scene in the least amount of time is critical to mitigating the emergency.”

Rather than stay with this current hybrid model, Dingwall continues to push the council and PMFRS to move more towards a full-time, fully trained model.

“I strongly disagree with the volunteer-based model,” he said. “There’s no question that the fire chief should’ve been asking for more firefighters and city council should’ve been investing in the fire department eight years ago. If they had, we’d be a lot better off right now.”

In recent years, Pitt Meadows has made some advancements within their fire department, including hiring six new full-time firefighters since 2018 and also starting the construction of a new fire hall and Emergency Operations Centre.

READ MORE: Pitt Meadows gets grant for emergency preparedness

Dingwall went on to explain that the current paramedic shortage and opioid crisis have added an even greater strain on the local fire department. He also cited the recently announced CP Rail logistics park expansion as a major issue for PMFRS.

READ MORE: Pitt Meadows says CP Rail has not addressed city safety concerns

“We’re in the process of moving towards a full-time fully trained firefighter model, but we’re not there yet, and CP Rail just keeps moving along with their expansion plans,” said Dingwall.

“I’m very concerned about it. We’re going to keep fighting CP Rail on this and advocate for public safety.”


Have a story tip? Email: brandon.tucker@mapleridgenews.com

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