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Union hopes for speedy fire department changes in Yellowknife

John Fredericks, the city's fire chief, speaks to councillors about a plan that would make changes to the fire department over the coming years. Ten members of the firefighters union decked out in red shirts also attended the meeting. Shane Magee/NNSL photo

The union representing city firefighters is worried that work to deal with workload and burnout issues will be slow to move forward.

City council has been asked to approve an implementation plan setting timelines to deal with 30 recommendations from a consultant's report from last fall that found pressing issues to be addressed at the fire hall.

Christian Bittrolff, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 2890, was one of 10 firefighters decked in red union shirts as the city's municipal services committee meeting discussed the plan Monday.

Bittrolff said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the implementation plan but some of the timelines mean changes won't happen soon enough for him.

“There are timelines there that we would hope to see accelerated to reduce our workload and increase our staffing levels and training,” he said Monday outside council chambers. “The longer we delay increasing our staffing numbers, the workload is still the same so we're still operating under more stress and more overtime.”

Top of the implementation list for the department will be creating an inventory of buildings in the city, rating them by risk and defining what services the department will provide when responding to various emergencies. Staff proposed completing those aspects by December 2018.

The fire department's administrative structure will also be reworked over the coming year, shifting responsibilities among staff.

Further down the list to be completed in 2019 and 2020 are things like changing training standards and changes to part-time firefighter roles. The city has 24 full-time firefighters (increasing to 28 in July) and 15 part-time positions that have suffered retention and recruitment issues.

Coun. Shauna Morgan also expressed concerns with some of the timelines for the plan on Monday.

Fire Chief John Fredericks said the department needs the time to evaluate its operations and make plans for changes.

“To some people, the time frame may look long, but when you’re actually working on this you need to make sure you have the time to work on it and implement this,” he said

Calls to the fire department have soared over recent years, mainly due to more medical calls related to intoxicated people. The higher call volume has made it harder to carry out routine training for firefighters.

Morgan pushed during council's December budget discussions for the city to hire four more firefighters by July to deal with the issues.

Most councillors who spoke on Monday said they were pleased to see the implementation plan. The plan will go to a future council meeting for formal approval.