ABBOTSFORD FIRE FIGHTERS ASSOCIATION RESPONSE TO THE CITY OF ABBOTSFORD’S “SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT” PAGE

In response to the information sent out by Mayor Braun this morning on Twitter, which redirects to a page on the City of Abbotsford website (click here), we have a few points we would like to discuss.

Under the “Here are a few key facts:” section:

The 6 fire fighters that were hired in 2018 did not do anything to increase the response capability of the Fire Rescue Service.  For years and years, when adding apparatus or bringing staffing of existing apparatus up to the 4 person trucks in service today, bare minimum staffing levels were hired.  This resulted in not having a proper staffing ratio to properly operate 4, 4 person engines.  This means that when fire fighters were on holidays or sick leave, significant overtime costs were incurred.  We thank council for the support in getting these 6 additional members, but it did not help increase the response capability of the Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service, it simply cut down on overtime costs.

Under “Public Safety and Service Delivery:”

It says that, “It’s important to note however that with respect to all medical calls, BC Ambulance has the primary responsibility for medical calls, with AFRS providing support.”  While we do agree it is ultimately their responsibility and we are there for support,  in the document titled, “Access to Emergency Health Services” completed by the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia, it makes reference to Fire Departments many times.  

Some examples are:

  • “…fire department first responders play an essential role in supporting BCEHS to prove the quickest possible response to patients requiring time-critical care.”

  • “First responders play a valuable role in responding, and often arrive at scene sooner than paramedics and can administer life-saving interventions for our high acuity calls.”

  • “First responders provide basic life-saving interventions, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), defibrillation and administration of naloxone for drug overdoses. They also provide support to paramedics, including: initial scene assessment of accidents and medical incidents; protection of emergency personnel and the public from incident hazards

Under National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards (USA):

It mentions that the NFPA standard for response times is 384 seconds in an urban zone, 90% of the time.  It goes on to state that, “This is the standard that AFRS works toward achieving.”  In fact, the AFRS response time goal is 420 seconds and despite that being 36 seconds slower than what NFPA recommends, they only met that 420 second goal 70.5% of the time in 2015 & 2016.  To repeat, we have a slower target and only met that slower target a little over 70% of the time.  Adding a squad truck or two will not really help us meet that target because the squad truck runs in a zone that already has this target time met with an engine response.

Under “Funding for Fire Rescue Services:”

“The Abbotsford Fire Fighters Association has advocated diverting 2% of the City’s revenue to staff Firehall 7 with a career engine and add two 2 person squads.”  We actually are not advocating that.  We are saying that staffing Firehall 7 is the priority.  It is AFRS management that is pushing the squad trucks.  

Furthermore, what we actually said was that diverting 2% of the City’s operating budget to the AFRS (which would bring us closer to the average percentage of other Fire Departments in the lower mainland) would provide enough funding to staff Hall 7 and provide the 2 squads that the Master Plan says is the goal.  

It also states that 2% of the City’s annual budget equates to approximately $3.5 million. Page 19 of the Abbotsford 2019 Budget Presentation clearly shows that the 2019 Operating Budget is over $200,000,000 per year.  2% of that is more than $4 million.  

The AFRS, or the City, claims that staffing Hall 7 and adding two squads like the Master Plan states would cost “closer to $5.7 million.”  We provided a detailed calculation showing that staff could be added for all of these apparatus for under $4 million, to which we did not receive a reply, nor did we see any breakdown of how they arrived at the number of $5.7 million.

The goal of the Abbotsford Fire Fighters Association’s pubic information campaign is to advocate for the staffing of Hall 7 in the Sandy Hill area.  That could be done for around $2 million, or by adding 1% of the total of the City’s Operating Budget to the AFRS. That is our priority, improving the response times to that area which over the last year have averaged almost 9 minutes.  The people in that area deserve the same level of service that the people that live in Blueridge, Clearbrook, “downtown”, and south east Abbotsford get.  They pay the same taxes yet they are getting an average response time of double most other areas.  Adding squad trucks to Hall 1 and 6 like AFRS management is advocating will not significantly improve response times to this underserved area.  

Under “Moving Forward:”

Page 1, paragraph 1 of the Darkhorse Analytics study states: “Darkhorse Analytics conducted a study of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS) responses.  The study aimed to determine the future needs of the AFRS and identify options for future station locations to help inform the department’s master plan.  The study incorporated historical call volumes, response times, and expected developments in the region.”  

In the “Discussion and Recommendations” section of this same study on page 16, it states the following:

“The station optimizations demonstrate the limitations of the existing stations; opportunities for performance gains; and the under-service in the northeast, which is expected to drive a substantial proportion of future demand

In all scenarios, our models optimally located a station in northeast…highlighting an opportunity to improve service in this area now and in the future.  This provides the most significant and obvious benefit to the service and should be considered.”

They stressed the need for coverage in the northeast through the entire document but the most important statement we feel was this one:

“At present, none of the career stations area able to cover the northeast within the 420 second target time, leaving these residents particularly vulnerable to poor response outcomes.”

Despite the continued references to the need for coverage in the Hall 7 area, AFRS management has decided to push forward the desire to have two, 2-person squads running out of Halls 1 & 6 (where average response times are already well under 5 minutes) BEFORE adding an engine crew to Hall 7 where the average response time is almost 9 minutes.

The City document also goes on to say that the 3 year incident response average of 8914 quoted in the campaign does not provide the public with the information on the reduction of 695 incident responses in 2018.  Actually, it was a reduction of 656 incidents not 695, and incident responses are in fact public information and can be found in city documents.  In 2017 there were several severe winter storms that caused a bigger spike that year than was expected.  If you remove 2017 altogether, 2018 still had an increase in call volume over 2016.  For 2019 so far, we are actually more than 500 calls ahead of 2018’s pace at the halfway point of the year.

 To make it easier, here are the incident numbers since 2013:

2013 - 5,714 incidents

2014 - 6,223 incidents

2015 - 7,310 incidents

2016 - 8385 incidents

2017 - 9507 incidents

2018 - 8851 incidents

2019 (up to June 28) - 4787 incidents (last year up to the end of June we had 4244)

If this pace continues, which there is no guarantee it will, we are on pace to do more than we did in 2017.

Abbotsford has not had an increase in response capability other than the current squad that runs when there is staff available (less than 30% of the time since it began) since 2010.  When you don’t grow resources as the city and workload grows, the level of service declines.

SUMMARY

The Abbotsford Fire Fighters Association public information campaign was started to bring awareness to the current under service in the northeast part of the urban area, the area surrounding Hall 7.  We have never advocated for adding squad trucks, we simply provided information on how much funding it would take to deliver on Management’s plans as stated in the Master Plan.  We are appreciative of the support of Council in the past when the need to grow was recognized, but we need it again now as there is a current and outstanding need in the Sandy Hill area.

We believe staffing Hall 7 with a career engine is the priority and what the people of that area deserve.  An average response time to that area of almost 9 minutes is unacceptable.  The people paying taxes in that area deserve the same level of response the people in the other urban areas of the city get.  Currently they are getting an average response time that is almost twice as long. Acceptable response times are crucial to positive outcomes in motor vehicle incidents, fires, medical emergencies, and most things that the AFRS gets called to.

The Master Plan process is a good tool, a good way to plan, but the problem is that nothing is binding.  The elected officials and AFRS management may say that they have addressed staffing in the Master Plan, but as evidenced by past master plans, they really mean nothing.  The 2011 Master Plan was supposed to have Hall 7 staffed with a career engine by 2015.  That didn’t happen.  Why are the citizens of Abbotsford supposed to believe that this Master Plan is any different?  The need for staffing Hall 7 was identified as “current” back in 2011.  The Darkhorse study stressed over and over the need for it now.  Why are we pushing ahead with adding squad trucks in zones that are already very close to meeting the AFRS response time goals when we aren’t even close in the Hall 7 area?

For more information, please visit the Public Safety section of our website here.