Amherstburg firefighters rolls out new money-saving deployment plan

Amherstburg firefighters rolls out new money-saving deployment plan
By Mary Caton
Windsor Star
Link to article: Amherstburg firefighters rolls out new money-saving deployment plan

A new response plan for low-priority calls will cut the number of Amherstburg firefighters on scene while shaving thousands of dollars in department costs.

The pilot project rolls out in January and has the potential to reduce costs for those applicable calls by 40 per cent, according to Amherstburg Fire Chief Bruce Montone.

“We could save between $30,000 to $40,000 (annually) just on those kinds of calls,” Montone said.

Each of the municipality’s three fire stations has 20 volunteer firefighters assigned to it. When a call comes into a particular station, an average of 13 firefighters respond.

For many calls, that’s almost double the number of firefighters needed for a low-priority situation such as a motor vehicle crash which might only require clean-up.

“We want to put the right number on the scene,” Montone said. “What drove us to look at this were mostly medical calls. We’ve seen significant increases over the last few years.”

Amherstburg firefighters responded to 72 medical calls in 2015. That shot up to 107 in 2016 and 110 so far in 2017.

“That’s partially due to an aging population and also to the extreme amount of pressure on the EMS (emergency medical services),” Montone said. “When you look at the calls themselves, 75 per cent of them we wouldn’t have done if the EMS didn’t have so much pressure.

“If they had a delayed response or they were coming from a distance, we were simply going (first) because they couldn’t. That’s the way the tiered response agreement is written.”

Instead of paging all 20 volunteers out of a responding station, Montone suggested in a recent report to town council that the volunteers could be split into two squads of 10 each.

Only one squad would be sent out on a rotating basis to low-priority calls where there were no significant injuries.

“For a lot of these medical calls, you really don’t need more than a few people,” Montone said.

A volunteer firefighter gets a flat fee of $54 per standard two-hour call.

It cost the town $40,000 in volunteer wages for the medical calls Amherstburg Fire attended in 2015. It cost $60,000 in 2016.

Montone’s department then cast a wider gaze at the number of firefighters responding to other low-priority calls where no one was trapped or in a life-threatening situation.

In 2015, the department handled 122 such calls. In 2016, they responded to 118 similar calls and so far in 2017 they’ve attended 132 low-priority incidents.

“These are other calls where we don’t need 20 firefighters,” Montone said.

Tweaking the tiered response language should also lessen the number of medical calls for Amherstburg Fire.

“When we have no impact, we shouldn’t be going to those calls,” Montone said. “When there’s a significant threat to life we’ll be there but we shouldn’t be wasting our resources.”

He stressed the department will respond in full force to high-priority calls involving cardiac events, a person with vital signs absent or a life-threatening situation.

“I want to ensure that people understand we are absolutely committed to making sure we have the right number of resources for the right kind of calls,” he said. “People can rest assured that’s the approach we’re taking.”

Council approved the plan as a one-year pilot project.

“In retrospect, it makes perfect sense,” Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said. “It’s about as logical as it can get.”

Any savings would be put back into the department for other needed services such as training or equipment.

“I think with the fire department its something most people realize has been ignored for some years,” DiCarlo said. “So any savings we find can be reallocated for other needs we have.”

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