Calgary Fire Department – Budget Cuts Proposal
Dear Calgary City Councillor:
The City of Calgary Council has directed City Administration to reduce operational budgets to alleviate the 2019/20 city tax burden. It has been suggested that the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) find ways to reduce its operational budget by $9 million. As an essential service the response from both CFD and its firefighter union was not unexpected – reduced budgets would reduce the level of service and potentially increase the risk of loss of life. But there are non-essential services within the CFD that should be eliminated to meet current budget restraints and future efficiencies. Changes to CFD Aquatic Response Unit, river boat patrols would achieve immediate operational cost-savings and omit significant future capital expenditures implementing the Calgary River Access Strategy.
Calgary River Users’ Alliance feels the CFD river patrols and restricted boat ramp access is already an unnecessary financial commitment and mandate overreach by the department. There is an opportunity within the CFD budget to reduce the tax base burden by considering information presented in the report, “Calgary River Access Strategy and the Impact of Restricted Access to Trailered River Boat Use” (1) presented to the CFD in the summer of 2018:
- Eliminate the CFD Aquatic Response Unit non-emergency river patrols, reducing operations costs by more than $1 million per year.
- Eliminate the exclusive designation of CFD city boat ramps, a future capital cost saving of $4 million that would not be needed to complete the Calgary River Access Strategy.
- Eliminating CFD river patrols and allow public access to the city’s boat ramps will not impede river rescue operations and may reduce conflicts that currently exist between CFD operations and recreational river use.
The above three suggestions address important CFD operational issues that are addressed in the CRUA report (1):
- Boat Patrols: These are concentrated into the four months of May to August with on average, one and sometimes two patrol boats on the river each day. It would be almost impossible to cover the entire city reach of the river and be able to respond quickly to an emergency call. The concept of a river patrol access to the river does not constitute an emergency in the same way as any emergency service vehicle travelling on city roads is not given preferred right-of-way. Shared respectful access to the city boat ramps would be more appropriate than the current CFD restricted access mandate.
- Rescue Call: Defined as a 911 call, a second patrol boat is dispatched to assist with what has been reported as an emergency. On average 59 dispatched each year, an extremely low number. Less than one every couple of days and may be concentrated into afternoon and weekend activities. There is no data to indicate when a 911 call became emergency rescues.
- Exclusive Boat Ramp Designation: The extremely low number of dispatched rescue calls brings into debate the question as to why the CFD boat ramp restrictions are needed. There is limited justification to close boat ramps to the public and the CRUA would rather work toward a public awareness campaign to avert potential conflicts at boat ramps and on the river. In analogy, cars are not kept off City streets in case the CFD is called for an emergency response.
The CRUA has a strong belief that eliminating CFD river patrols and allowing public access to the city’s boat ramps will not impede river rescue operations or public safety, but instead immediately generate palatable reductions in the CFD operational budget and reduce future capital expenditures for the Calgary River Access Strategy.
- Calgary River Access Strategy and the Impact of Restricted Access to Trailered River Boat Use. CRUA, June 2018. https://www.calgaryriverusers.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Calgary-RAS-CFD-Access-CRUA-28may2018.pdf
Calgary River Users’ Alliance