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Fire Services realignment plan having positive effect on ambulance calls, says fire chief

In 2014 there were 30 emergency calls in which an ambulance was unavailable. So far in 2016 there has been zero
20151013 Sault Fire Chief Mike Figliola Council KA
Sault Ste. Marie fire chief Mike Figliola seen in this file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

In a report to be presented to city council on Monday, Fire Chief Mike Figliola will update councillors on the progress thus far of his realignment of fire services.

To date, eight of an expected 20 firefighter positions have been cut by attrition.

As a result, the number of on-duty firefighters at any time has been lowered from 17 in 2014-15 to 13 in 2016.

Figliola reports a total of 10 firefighters arrive at the scene of a fire, a number unchanged from the 2014-15 statistics.

“Prior to October 26, 2015 a total of 13 firefighters would respond to a call leaving 4 firefighters at the hall for cal-in if required. Under the new model implemented post October 26, the 4 firefighters are no longer stationed at the hall. Instead, increased firefighters are dispatched (if necessary) to a call through a call-back system paid through premiums on an as-required basis,” reported Figliola. 

A $400,000 cost savings realized by cutting those four firefighter positions was offset by a projected $15,000 in callbacks, reported Figliola.

The report states there has been no significant change in the number of injuries to firefighters over the years immediately prior to the realignment plan.

According to statistics provided in the report, the changes to the EMS side of the equation have had a marked effect, especially when it comes availability of ambulances and EMS staff in emergency situations.

So far, four paramedic supervisors and four paramedics have been hired as part of the realignment plan.

In 2014, there was an average of 30 emergency calls per month in which an ambulance was unavailable, in 2015 there was an average of 15.

So far in 2016, said Figliola, there has been zero calls in any month where an ambulance was unavailable.

Ambulance response time has improved by almost 10 per cent.

“Reallocation of the firefighter positions to EMS has significantly reduced risk and liability relating to rapidly increasing EMS call volumes at no increase to the budgeted property tax levy,” reported Figliola.

The city is currently in the process of hiring two fire and safety public educators, one mechanical officer and one emergency planning and research officer.

A comprehensive risk assessment is scheduled to be done at the completion of the realignment plan in 2018.

In the meantime, reports Figliola, a series of simplified risk assessments are being conducted and reported annually to the Fire Marshal’s office.

A separate motion by Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano will be considered by council on Monday, asking staff to look into bumping up the date for the comprehensive risk assessment to 2017.

That motion also asks staff to report on a recent Ministry of Labour order presented to the city of Sault Ste. Marie in regards to changes to the operating guidelines for firefighters making an interior attack of a single-family dwelling.

The city has been given a deadline of January 27, 2017 to comply with that order.