THE ISSUE

The City of Abbotsford is a modern, fast growing municipality with increasing needs for city services, including critical life-saving services like fire protection.  The Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS) is understaffed, specifically in the northeast part (Sandy Hill, Auguston, etc) of the urban core .  This area does not have adequate coverage since Fire Hall 7, located beside Abby Christian School, remains unstaffed by a career engine, resulting in potentially significant response time delays to this area.  


THE BACKGROUND

The AFRS & City Council recognized the need for adequate coverage in the northeastern area of the urban core back in 2010 with the creation and adoption of the 2011-2020 AFRS Master Plan.  This plan stated, “The need to staff Fire Hall 7 with career firefighters to meet response time targets for this urban area remains outstanding.”  It recommended hiring 5 fire fighters per year starting in 2012  eventually resulting in a fully staffed career engine operating out of the northeast by 2015.  It has been more than 8 years since that need was identified and the process to staff it hasn’t started.  We simply haven’t kept pace with the growth of the city in the last 8 years.  The northeast part of the city deserves the level of service commensurate with their tax money, namely a career engine operating out of Hall 7 capable of responding to their emergencies within the 7 minute time frame that the AFRS strives for.  With our current level of service we simply can’t accomplish that standard.  In fact, the urban area as a whole was only able to be serviced by the first arriving engine in that 7 minute time frame just over 70% of the time for the years 2015 & 2016.  In the latest version of the AFRS Master Plan that was adopted in late 2018, it stated that they will now not be staffing the northeast part of the city with a career engine until, “…2023, or later.”  

EFFECT ON PUBLIC SAFETY

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is devoted to eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards.  Fire department response times are one of the the many things that the NFPA publishes standards for to protect public safety.  Fire insurance ratings are also based upon these recommended response times.  The NFPA standard for response times states that a first due career apparatus needs to be able to arrive on scene within 384 seconds in an urban zone 90% of the time. This recommended standard is not being met by the AFRS.  In fact, AFRS has their own target response time standard of 420 seconds for the first arriving apparatus in an urban zone.  With their current staffing levels, the AFRS is only able to meet their own standard, which is 36 seconds slower than the NFPA standard, 70% of the time in the urban area.

Abbotsford’s current career staffing model is four, 4 person engines effectively splitting the city into 4 response zones.  Only having 4 career staffed fire stations in the biggest response area in BC comes with many complications.  Not only are target response times consistently unmet, but the ever increasing call volume means that when a certain engine is tasked with a call, that zone is left unprotected and it is up to the next closest engine to cross cover the unprotected zone plus its own response zone. During busy periods this problem can compound and the entire city can be left without first due career engine response. 

The city has a contingent of dedicated paid-on-call (POC) firefighters, but as a lot of growing communities have discovered, that system can be counted on less and less due to many factors.  During the daytime the POC members can only respond if their employers let them - something that just doesn’t happen as much today as it used to.  Daytime pages for incidents or coverage for the city when the career engines are all busy at calls have proven that sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes or more for a POC response, and sometimes enough qualified members for a response can not even be mustered.  This leaves the city dangerously exposed and can put firefighters at risk in tackling incidents without safe staffing levels.  During the evening, pages can return better results but there is still a delay because the POC members must leave their homes or wherever they happen to be, drive to the fire hall, assemble a crew, then respond to the incident.  

POC members are also more difficult to keep due to other departments hiring significant numbers of new career firefighters every year.  Simply put, the POC system that has served Abbotsford well for years and years, just can’t be counted on for core services that a modern Fire Service in a city our size should be able to provide in a timely manner.  

With the materials used to manufacture modern day furniture, the old adage of a fire doubling in size every minute is no longer valid.  There isn’t an exact, agreed upon number, but experiments have shown a fire can now double in size in as little as 30 seconds resulting in the smoke level reaching the floor in the room of the fire’s origin in 3 minutes or less.  

On the medical side, according to research, the chances of a person surviving cardiac arrest decrease by 7-10% with every minute that passes after a person's heart stops beating.  Quick responses for breathing difficulties, strokes, traumas, and many other medical emergencies are also beneficial to patient outcomes. In B.C., fire departments are an important part of the emergency health system often arriving prior to paramedics with the ability to perform critical interventions such as using automated external defibrillators (AED) and the administration of naloxone to combat overdoses.

In addition to those we also respond to Hazmat incidents, motor vehicle incidents, carbon monoxide alarm response, fire alarm response, all types of rescues including High Angle Rope Rescue. All those incidents can be better served the quicker we can get there.

The difference between an engine arriving in 4-5 minutes (with Hall 7 staffed with a career engine) and a truck arriving in 8-9 minutes (current response capability) in that area is huge!  You and your family’s safety depends on help arriving in a timely manner and with the current staffing levels, that can’t be done.

MINUTES MATTER! SECONDS MATTER

Map showing coverage within 4 minutes with the current response model.

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MAP SHOWING COVERAGE WITHIN 4 MINUTES WITH HALL 7 STAFFED WITH A CAREER ENGINE

Abbotsford BC Map Binder1 (dragged).jpg

FINANCIAL CASE

The City of Abbotsford is in a period of strong and sustained growth, in fact the City’s economic growth has been identified as one of the strongest across Canada.  Mayor and council have done a great job of getting the City on track financially and there are continued references to Abbotsford’s “booming” economy being made by news outlets and City Staff, including mayor and council.  

The Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service accounted for roughly 9% of the City’s expenses in 2017.  In fact, we rank among the lowest fire service budgets (cost per capita) in the province.  The Township of Langley, which is smaller in both population and response area, gets over 13% of the city budget and has 6 more career firefighters on duty 24/7 and more apparatus staffed full time.  Coquitlam’s Fire Service, once again both a smaller population and response area,  accounts for approximately 11% of the City’s budget and has 12 more career firefighters on duty 24/7 in addition to more apparatus staffed full time.  The Abbotsford Fire Rescue service responds to more calls per year than both of these departments.  They are keeping up with their city’s needs.  We are not.

DID YOU KNOW

  • There is no longer a ladder truck staffed with career members as a first line apparatus as of the fall 2017.  Any apparatus able to reach higher than 3 stories in the event of a fire or rescue need is now on a delayed response, most likely by paid-on-call members.

  • AFRS contracted Darkhorse Emergency Services to help determine the future needs of the AFRS and identify options for future station locations to help inform the department’s Master Plan.  Their recommendation was that adding two full-time stations, “…appears as the best choice for the AFRS.  It addresses the need in the northeast and provides improved coverage in the downtown core, an area already prone to availability issues.”  It goes on to say, “At present, none of the career stations are able to cover the northeast within the 420 second (7 minute) target time, leaving these residents particularly vulnerable to poor response outcomes.” This shows that this area is a current need, not a future need.  Despite this recommendation, the Master Plan indicated that they would delay staffing a new hall in the needed area (Fire Hall 7) until 2023 or later.  

  • The Darkhorse study based their growth in call volume prediction on a call ratio per person (population) calculation to determine the total expected future demand.  The data they examined was from January 1, 2013 to January 19, 2017 and they calculated an average of 6,570 calls per year during that period.  They predicted that our call volume is expected to increase to 10,620 calls per year with the expected rise in population over the next 35 years.  From January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018 (the 3 years since that study was completed), the AFRS averaged 8914 calls per year.  That means that we are already 58% of the way to their predicted volume in only 3 years, or 8.5% of the time.  This means the existing trucks are 58% busier that they were when the Darkhorse study called residents in the northeast “vulnerable to poor response outcomes.”  How much more vulnerable are they now?

  • That due to reduced staffing levels in our prevention division, the coordination, evaluation, development, and maintenance of public education initiatives and community support is no longer possible without trained staffing levels to support them. For a comprehensive list of programs affected, click here.

SUMMARY

The AFRS identified a “current” need for staffing in the northeast region of the urban core (Hall 7) back in 2010 with the presentation of the 2011 Master Plan to Abbotsford City Council.  We recently found a quote from Fire Chief Don Beer stating that they actually identified this need in 2006. This need was recognized by the council of the day when they approved and adopted that plan.  Eight years later, zero progress has been made towards the staffing of that hall.  The company hired to do analysis for future growth as part of the 2018 Master Plan, Darkhorse Analytics, once again identified the current need in that area.  “At present, none of the career stations are able to cover the northeast within the 420 second target time, leaving these residents particularly vulnerable to poor response outcomes.” The Darkhorse analytics study was buried in the back of the full AFRS Master Plan but it was not accessible in the version of the Master Plan that you can access easily on the city website.  When the study was completed the AFRS was only meeting their urban zone response time standard 70.5% of the time.  Since then call volumes have increased another 21%.   

The latest AFRS recommendation for the staffing of Hall 7, while being fully aware of both the current and “outstanding” need dating back to 2006, is “2023 or later.”  The need was there in 2006.  The need is clearly even stronger now with the increased call volume and the future projected growth in this area.  Their plan is not to do anything about it until 2023 or later.  

IS THIS ACCEPTABLE TO YOU?  ARE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY GETTING THE LEVEL OF SERVICE YOUR TAXES SHOULD BE PROVIDING?

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Talk to your family, your friends, and your neighbours about fire protection and public safety as a priority in the City of Abbotsford.  Recognize that you deserve adequate coverage to protect you, your family, and your property.

  • CALL TO ACTION

    If you think you deserve equal service to the rest of the urban areas with a full time engine out of the Sandy Hill area (Hall 7), contact your city councillors and tell them so! Ask them how they can justify waiting 17 years after identifying the gap in the Sandy Hill area to fill that gap? You pay the same taxes, don’t you deserve the same coverage? 

If you have any questions, please contact us at: publicinfo@iaff2864.org

RESPONSE TO THE CITY “SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT” PAGE

OPEN LETTER TO RESIDENTS OF SANDY HILL/AUGUSTON