In approximately three months, Airdrie's Fire Department will be welcoming four new paramedic firefighters to their staff. The increase in staffing levels comes after city council approved the new hires in their budget in November 2023.
The job posting which was opened in mid-December, officially closed earlier this month. Late last week, the City's Fire Chief, Mike Pirie, wrote that as of Friday, there were 49 individuals currently registered to begin testing, though there was the potential for several more. Applicants will undergo a series of tests, including aptitude and character tests.
"Following this step, a shortlist will be developed for candidates to move on to skills testing and interviews. Candidates who receive job offers will go through nine weeks of skills validation and training with the goal of operational readiness in May. This will conclude moving Chinook Winds Station to a full complement of staff with four front-line staff as a minimum," Chief Pirie wrote.
While he is pleased with the number of current candidates, Chief Pirie expressed concern that there has been an overall downward trend in the number of applicants when compared to previous years. This concern is part of the overarching challenge the city's fire department may be tackling this year: resources.
What 2023 signals for this year?
Last year saw a 3.3 per cent increase in calls for service for the fire department in comparison to 2022, with a total of 2602 events that the city's firefighters responded to.
"The 3.3 per cent increase in 2023 was a much-needed break from 2022’s unsustainable increase of 20.5 per cent compared to 2021," Airdrie's Fire Department statistics stated.
Nearly 50 per cent of all calls were medical response calls, which underscores the vitalness of the city's firefighters to also be trained primary care paramedics.
Key findings from the fire department also underlined that medical responses appeared to stabilize in overall volume.
"Requests for EMS response outside of normal is half of what was seen in 2022. These are calls when EMS will not be able to attend in a timely manner and when EMS crews need additional assistance."
However, the percentage of events that occurred concurrently, occurred 24.6 per cent of the time, for a total of 639 events. These events are also deemed as 'overlapping calls'.
Previously, Chief Pirie explained how the overlap calls impact the resources of the fire department. Using a hypothetical example, he said that if there were to be a residential fire, the fire department would respond with two fire engines and a ladder, this is the sum of the city's three stations responding. Through their mutual aid agreement, Airdrie would also pull in an aid engine from either Crossfield or Rocky View County.
"During that time that we are there for that fire, there is no capacity for any response of any kind within the city. That's why we look at those overlapping calls so closely," Chief Pirie noted. "We have to [ask ourselves] if we're at a fire, but an alarm comes in, can we just put that in a queue? It's triage - much like EMS [Emergency Medical Services] does."
While structure fires occurred less frequently in 2023 when compared to 2022, there was an increase in commercial fires both inside and outside of Airdrie.
"[There] is a need to monitor this over the next few years to identify trends and preventative measures."
Future trends and growth
While the increase in staffing levels this year is expected to be adequate for the call volume the city's fire crews are currently responding to, the future is much less certain. The city growth projections estimate that in 2026, the same year that the Highland Park Fire Station is expected to open, Airdrie's population will grow to 94,347 residents, while in 2028, the city could have over 100,000 residents.
Chief Pirie noted that one area in which fire departments including Airdrie's may need to continue to evolve is how exactly potential future hires are sought out. He said that the days of simply posting a job opening are no longer sufficient. He hopes that more work can be done to attract candidates much earlier on, including the potential for cadet programs. He believes this would help build a base of potential candidates much earlier.
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