Firefighters union pushing back on cutbacks

The local firefighters union is publicly pushing back against a reduction to firefighter positions in North Battleford.

In posts on their Facebook page and on their website, North Battleford Firefighters Local 1756 has slammed a 25 percent cutback to the full-time front-line staff of firefighters at North Battleford Fire Department.

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Local 1756 president Chris Walls, himself a firefighter with the North Battleford fire department, has confirmed to the News-Optimist that the city is cutting four positions.

He said the department is already down two members who have left on their own; the city has opted not to fill those vacant positions. Walls also confirmed that two individuals have been issued layoff notices effective Sept. 1.

“At that point we will be down 25 percent,” said Walls, from 16 members to 12.

Now that layoff notices are sent out, the union is appealing to the public for support to try and reverse the decision. In particular, they are raising concerns that fire engines will not be adequately staffed for fire calls.

The union points out the national standard set by the National Fire Protection Association is for a minimum of four firefighters per fire engine. The union states that the proposed reduction in North Battleford would mean fire engines would be staffed with only two or three members.

“It actually affects the type of tasks we can undertake while on scene at an emergency,” said Walls. He gave an example of a house fire. With four members showing up on the scene of the fire, two can go inside while the other two can stay outside as backup.

“That’s not just for our safety but the safety of people inside, because if we have something go wrong inside we have another crew that can come in and help,” Walls said.

Without that minimum personnel, “we’re limited – we can’t make entry.” It also put fire crews in the position of having to decide whether to send one of their firefighters into a building against the rules and regulations in place.

Walls also acknowledged the overall reduction “limits the pool of trained and experienced full-time firefighters” to be able to respond to a major incident, particularly if it is an all-hands-on-deck situation. 

The union has urged supporters to contact members of council. Names, phone numbers and email addresses of members of the entire city council are posted on their website at local1756.com.

It has been no secret that the city has undergone staff reductions across several departments this year, seeking to reduce staffing costs by over $1.3 million.

Negotiations between the city and the firefighters union had been going on over the past several weeks.

“We’ve been helping them try and come up with alternative solutions,” Walls said.

“They still chose to go ahead with the layoff, so that’s why we’re now reaching out to the public, trying to educate the public about what we do and the limitations we face in the event of an emergency.”  

When the announcement was made in April about staff reductions, Mayor Ryan Bater had pointed to the loss of the firefighting contract with the R.M. of North Battleford, as well as the loss of their fire service agreements with the provincial government for Saskatchewan Hospital and the Battlefords District Care Centre.

When asked by reporters at the time if the loss of the contract with the R.M. directly impacted the decision to cut staff, Bater had replied “yes it did.”

In speaking to the News-Optimist, Walls said he could not comment directly on the city’s loss of the fire contract with the R.M., but said losing the contracts “doesn’t change the fact that the needs of the city and the people who live here don’t change.”

“They expect the same level of service in terms of emergency services and they expect that if they’re in trouble somebody’s going to come out and help. And we’re just trying to let them know the realities of it that if these cuts go through it might not be the level of help they are counting on.”

 

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