It was with dismay that I read the March 9 Citizen Article entitled ‘City needs 32 More Firefighters’. Also included are requests for more vehicles, another firehall, and a fire training centre. I implore city council to pushback with a big no to this audacious request and maybe ask the presenter “what on earth are you smoking?”
The points of justification for this expenditure range from weak to borderline spurious.
- There hasn’t been an increase in Fire Department personnel since the 1990s. There hasn’t been much of an increase in city population either. Most private sector workplaces have learned to reduce their workforces—why not the Prince George Fire Service?
- The call volume has increased by 67 per cent. 60 per cent of all calls are now medical emergencies. Fire trucks are the wrong tool for medical emergencies. They’re being dispatched because the ambulance service has been allowed to rot.
- Another hall is needed for the BCR site. Part of the justification for the new over-budget hall across from Massey Stadium was to provide better service to BCR Site. What went wrong here?
- A training centre is needed because of logistical challenges of training crews in Quesnel. Competent fire department leaders should be able manage this issue. Taxpayers should not pay for a new facility because managers can’t do their job.
The justifications are presented as a consultant’s report. That’s almost as cliché as a salesman who requires approval from a boss that you don’t have access to. A consultant’s advice will never be add or build nothing and figure out how to better deploy the resources that you’ve got.
Thirty-two additional firefighters will cost Prince George taxpayers an additional $4-5 million/year for salaries, benefits, vacation, sick time and training. That adds $150-$200/year to every household’s property tax bill. Not included in this increase is the cost of additional support staff or the capital cost of vehicles, the new firehall, and training centre. These projects will easily run into the tens of millions each. This at a time when city taxpayers are already looking at tax increases that are well above inflation.
There is unlikely to be any relief from the city’s industrial tax base. Half of PG Pulp is being mothballed, and more industrial decline is in the cards. Bureaucratic buzzwords that describe money sourced from this loan or that fund amount to arbitrage. All costs must ultimately be paid by taxpayers. Any estimates that are presented by city bureaucrats will overrun. The litigation and finger pointing around the recently completed firehall demonstrates that these people have learned nothing.
I implore city council to remember that you represent the taxpayers. The default position on fire service expansion must be:
- how many lives are currently lost in fires that would be saved if the additions to your empire are approved?
- And tell us the net dollar cost of this empire increase?
Finally, city council must ratchet up the pressure on the province for letting the ambulance service rot. Coun. Kyle Sampson is definitely onto something with sending the bill for medical calls to the province. Taxpayers cannot afford to duplicate the ambulance service by increasing the fire service. It’s the wrong tool for the job.