Halifax Regional Council unanimously approved a number of recommendations to council on the future of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency (HRFE) today.
The recommendations included setting benchmark response times for the fire service, as laid out in an external review by Pomax Consulting. Meeting the targets, staff say, would require training for firefighters and funding, so it's been pegged as a multi-year project.
The consultation report done by Pomax was released last Monday, and outlined a number of challenges and solutions.
According to the report, which analyzed data from 2016 to 2017, the largest downfall the HRFE has been reaching target response times set out by the municipality, which were missed on almost every dispatch, turnout and travel.
Fire Chief Ken Stuebing says he wasn't too surprised by the results of the report.
"I think it was certainly a good report for our team. It helps set the vision for our organization, our level of service we're supposed to provide for the community," said Stuebing in an interview with reporters during council.
"This is an evolution for us so during that time, we were continuing to crunch data and create new data points and evolve as an organization," he said.
Stuebing presented the findings of the report to council today, as well as a number of solutions, including increasing the municipality's target response times, which he says are "unrealistic."
The current standard for dispatching emergency calls is 60 seconds, which almost never was met according to the report. This is due in part to the dispatcher's multiple roles in handling calls from fire, police, and 911.
“No matter how conscientious call takers and dispatchers are, it is very difficult to change roles on the fly between being a 911 call taker, fire call taker and police call taker, plus remember to capture all the time markers,” said the Pomax report.
The recommendations passed will add an extra 30 seconds for dispatch times, and an extra 30 seconds for both urban and rural firefighters for turnout.
The new response times will rolled out through a multi-year project, with annual reports from HRFE.
There was also a discussion around increasing staffing at Station 45 in Fall River to 24 hours per day. The Pomax review found the Halifax Stanfield International Airport to be a location at high risk for fire because of the number of commercial buildings in the area.
It's recommending the higher staffing levels, including four trained firefighters on the job at all hours of the day, while some work goes into a future plan for the airport.
The review also suggests the move would improve protection for the Fall River area itself, which it notes is experiencing significant growth right now.
"We are a good value for the service that we provide," said Stuebing in response to potential cuts during HRM's upcoming budget, an issue that's been discussed in the past.
"We provide metropolitan service levels at very reasonable rates compared to all the other fire services and I think that's fiscally responsible. I think our union has been a good team player in helping us produce sustainable costs. I know they do put pressure on the system but they're significantly cheaper than other fire service costs in the rest of Canada."