Connell Smith · CBC News · Posted: Jun 23, 2020 8:00 AM AT | Last Updated: June 23
Saint John (NB) firefighters respond to fire in the city’s Old North End. The department is being reduced by 10 to 15 per cent.
Saint John council has approved the elimination of 24 firefighter positions and the closing of a fire station as long-discussed municipal cutbacks became real Monday night. The Fire Department cuts will save the city $1.87 million toward $10 million in total cost reductions to be implemented by the end of this year as the municipality responds to anticipated deficits in 2021 and 2022.
Twelve full-time firefighter positions and 12 Holiday Relief firefighter positions (also largely full time) are to be eliminated, leading directly to the decision to close Fire Station 8 in Millidgeville. Operations at the Millidgeville station will wind down by the end of this year with calls directed to Fire Station 5 on Adelaide Street in the Old North End.
Fire Chief Kevin Clifford told city councillors the service impacts from the change will be ‘substantial’ with 10 to 15 per cent of the department being eliminated. “We’re going to lose three, three and a half minutes if you’re trying to get to the Millidgeville station,” said Clifford. “We’re going to lose capacity at some of those larger fires. We’re going to lose the ability to respond to multiple incidents at the same time.” Having said that Clifford acknowledged the municipality’s need to reduce costs.
Millidgeville ‘least vulnerable’
Suburban Millidgeville is home to the Saint John Regional Hospital, The University of New Brunswick, and many low rise apartment buildings. But it is identified in a report to city councillors as the area “least vulnerable” to risk. “Modern construction, modern subdivision plans, and extensive use of fire suppression and alarm systems are all helpful in minimizing the risk that an increased response time presents,” said the report authored by Chief Clifford. “It will cause less pain overall for the whole city,” said Deputy Mayor, Shirley McAlary, whose home is located a few blocks from the Millidgeville station.
Saint John fire chief Kevin Clifford. ‘We’re going to lose capacity at some of those larger fires.” (CBC) “It’s important for the community to know we still have a good fire service,” said mayor Don Darling. “We have incredibly dedicated first responders.”
A consultant’s review of the fire department is planned but has yet to be commissioned. It will “map out fire service strategy and applicable fire service level” for the next 15 years. Among other things, it will take into account the city’s financial position.
The IAFF union local representing city firefighters had asked that the third-party review take place before any cuts to the department are made.
The Department’s budget for 2020 is $24.9 million. It has 136 full-time firefighters and 22 holiday relief firefighters. A further 10 holiday relief positions are currently vacant.