The Saanich Fire Department has expanded its emergency response capabilities in the eastern part of the county by hiring 10 new firefighters who will work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at two posts in Concourse 3 on Mackenzie Avenue.
The new staff, which brings the fire department to six people, is the first round of a staffing increase recommended following a fire department review in 2019. The review compared Saanich’s response times to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and used population growth and density projections, as well as call volume and type, to determine staffing requirements.
“We’ve made some pretty good progress in some areas, but we’ve had a bit of a headwind in staffing,” Fire Chief Michael Burgess said.
There has been no real staffing increase in the department since the early 2000s, he said, while emergency calls have increased by about 35% over the past decade. Based on emergency response trends coupled with the growth that Saanich is seeing, Burgess doesn’t expect volume to slow down.
The review revealed some critical information, including that Station 3 met the NFPA’s eight-minute response standard only 49.6% of the time, that fire losses are increasing, and that the most significant fires with losses in the county occurred in the station’s response area.
Part of the increase in personnel there includes the creation of a two-man special medical unit that will come to emergency medical services without requiring a full engine crew or the engine itself. The move will help free up staff to respond to fire calls more quickly, Burgess said.
Approximately 40 percent of Saanich’s responses are related to emergency medical care. Concourse 1 on Vernon Avenue has a dedicated medical unit, but there is a cross-staff in which the firefighters attached to the medical unit are also part of the ladder truck crew. A similar strategy will be used at station #3.
Station 3 has extensive coverage from the lower Saanich panhandle north through Gordon Head and Blenkinsop Road, through Cook Street and Maplewood Road, and on to the border with Oak Bay.
According to the chief, the increase in call volume at the station is due to the growth seen in these areas.
“With one engine and a crew of four, they are probably out of the station more often than they are in the station, they are so busy.”
The long-term plans under the District’s 10-year funding strategy are to increase Station 3’s workforce by two by 2026 to eight, allowing the site to have a fully equipped engine and ladder truck.
Burgess said internal discussions are already underway to expand Hall 3 to accommodate additional staff and equipment. The Saanich District leases the land of the fire station from the University of Victoria.
The chief praised the council for its forward thinking in approving a 10-year fire department funding plan that will help smooth out budget increases as the county grows.
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