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Public meeting set to discuss more career firefighters

Critics say Pitt Meadows taxpayers can’t afford more
New Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall supports hiring more full-time firefighters, and the city is hosting a special meeting about emergency response service levels on Dec. 3. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Pitt Meadows council will be hosting a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 3, to discuss the need for more full-time firefighters in the city.

Mayor Bill Dingwall said both the public and the new council will learn the city is not getting the same level of emergency response as others in the Lower Mainland.

“I really want to stress that I have a lot of respect for our firefighters and what they do,” added Dingwall.

The issue is the service levels authorized by council – what calls they are expected to attend, he said.

“I clearly don’t think they are where they need to be.”

During the mayoralty campaign, he proposed adding two new career firefighters, and increasing the number of medical emergency calls that will be attended by the local department.

For example, he said they do not attend calls about chest pains, where firefighters in neighbouring municipalities do.

The department has five full-time staff and 35 paid on call members.

Dingwall said Pitt Meadows has become a training centre where firefighters learn the trade.

Afterwards, they are often hired into full-time positions in neighbouring municipalities.

“Their talents are being harvested by departments that surround us in the Lower Mainland,” Dingwall said. “Because that happens, we are in constant training mode. That’s not effective, and that’s not efficient.”

Each career firefighter will cost the city approximately $125,000.

“How are we going to pay for these two firemen?” William Wild, a Pitt Meadows resident, asked Dingwall at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Wild noted that council is starting the budget planning process with a recommendation for a 5.75 per cent increase from city hall staff.

He called that a big hike from other years.

“My neighbours and I are quite curious as to how is the structure going to be? Is that two firefighters inside of 5.75 per cent, or is that an additional cost.”

Dingwall answered that decisions will be made over the coming weeks during budgeting and more information will be made available at the Dec. 3 meeting, which is the next step in the process.

“It’s totally unnecessary to have two more firefighters,” said Norma Murray, who along with her late husband Tom led a petition in 2012 to pass a budget with no residential tax increase.

“I don’t believe the stats support this” she added.

She doesn’t think adding more full-time firefighters warrants having taxes go up, and said it is particularly hard on people who are on a fixed income.

“Our seniors are scared, especially those who are still in their own homes and have been able to make it with the low taxes up to now.”

Dingwall said the issue of emergency response service levels will have to be considered in the context of balancing the budget.

However, he added that emergency response is also about potentially saving lives, reducing injury impacts and offering relief to residents in the most stressful of situations.

“On a priority list, public safety rates right at the top,” he said.

Much of the technical information presented next Monday, from 799 p.m., will be from the 2016 Summary Report on Fire Rescue Services.

That report found that the paid-on-call staffing model works well in Pitt Meadows, results in excellent response times, excellent turnout at calls, and low operating costs, an estimated one-third of what it would cost to run a career staffed department.

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

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