About one-third of experienced firefighters in Pitt Meadows are being scooped every year up by departments in other cities hiring full-time.
This means that not only is the Pitt Meadows Fire Department losing skilled workers, but the city is also losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in training costs, according to Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall.
“And that’s not sustainable,” said the mayor, who is expecting a report from Pitt Meadows fire chief, Mike Larsson, in early July on how to better attract and retain experienced firefighters in the department.
It costs the city about $25,000 over three years to fully train a paid-on-call firefighter, explained Larsson.
The Pitt Meadows Fire Department, at present, has four full-time firefighters, one fire chief and two deputy fire chiefs. Currently it is being supplemented by a team of 28 volunteer, paid-on-call members.
And 16 of those, Larsson said, have less than 18-months experience.
“Which is, you know, in the fire-world, not good,” added Larsson, who noted that losing experience is the department’s biggest problem.
Experience, comfort, knowledge and ability, he said, come from time served as well as training.
Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall estimates that the city is losing somewhere between $250,000 to $300,000 a year roughly in training costs.
“We are losing 10 to 12 a year and that’s a lot of money,” he said.
Deputy fire chief Brad Perrie noted that this situation is not unique to the Pitt Meadows department, but it affects them a lot more because of their small size.
“If we lose five, say, it affects us more than if Maple Ridge loses five,” said Perrie, because, he noted, Maple Ridge has, “a deeper swimming pool to draw from”.
If, over a two year period, Pitt Meadows loses several members to larger career departments, added Perrie, it takes the department a few years to replace that experience level.
However, the department took the step this year to team up with the Justice Institute of B.C., said Larsson, to sell their work experience program to their graduating classes.
Graduates holding their fire fighting technologies certificate are now coming to the Pitt Meadows fire department fully qualified.
“It’s a lot less training hours that we have to put into them,” said Larsson, adding that this is a cost-savings of approximately $10,000 per member.
But, he said, then the double-edged sword is that they start looking for jobs right away.
Paid-on-call members from the street, by comparison, will train for at least three years, said Larsson, before they even think about applying elsewhere.
However, Larsson believes the paid-on-call system is still working and is great for the city.
“It’s not working as efficiently as it was five years ago or 10 years ago,” said Larsson. But, he said, it is a major savings for the tax payer in other ways.
“Our members don’t get paid an annual wage to be there,” said Larsson.
“What they get paid for is an hourly wage for training and for calls”.
So, instead of paying four members to stand by at all times, he said, the city is paying six or eight members, that respond to calls that get paid an hourly wage for just the time they are there.
Dingwall would like to see four more full-time firefighters added to the department in the next two-and-a-half years to bring the total to eight, which, he said, would allow them to have a full 24 hour, seven day rotation.