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The injury rate among Township firefighters is below average, but the number of injuries will increase if the number of personnel in a crew is not increased to four from three.
The point was made as Andy Hewitson, president of IAFF local 4550, lobbied Township council on Monday to fast-track the hiring of eight more firefighters so that the four-man minimum standard can be met now.
“It will increase if the three-man rate continues and crews keep pushing themselves,” he said.
Firefighters are provincially mandated to be the first emergency service on the scene of vehicle collisions, and as a result attend more crashes than fires. They are also dispatched to medical emergencies that are not the result of MVAs.
“We are the only service that doesn’t say ‘No’,” Hewitson said.
At accident scenes, firefighters are not only responsible for the rescue (extrication) of a vehicle occupant, but for traffic control and cleaning up hazardous fluids spilled from vehicles, he said.
Hewitson called crash and fire scenes “very chaotic events” in which firefighters “tend to push themselves over a short period of time.”
It is a WorkSafe B.C. requirement that prevents firefighters from entering a burning building until there are four crew on the scene.
Asked by Councillor Kim Richter how often a crew had to wait for a fourth member to arrive, Hewitson replied, “fifty per cent of the time.”
The Township’s draft budget includes funding for eight more firefighters to be hired over two years, but Hewitson, noting that call volumes are up, said the eight should be hired this year in order to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters, meet WorkSafe standards and reduce injuries.
Councillor Steve Ferguson said it would be a good idea if the Township sat down with the firefighters to “look at efficiencies.”