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Fire protection in Saanich east boosted with addition of 10 firefighters

Extra staffing gives hall 2 more 24/7 firefighters, aims to improve response times
New recruits and management of the Saanich Fire Department gathered for a photo recently outside the number 1 hall. The new hires will bring full-time staffing up to six at the department’s No. 3 station on McKenzie Avenue. (Courtesy District of Saanich)

Saanich Fire Department has boosted its emergency response capabilities in the eastern portion of the district, by hiring 10 new firefighters who will staff two 24/7 positions at the No. 3 hall on McKenzie Avenue.

The new hires, which bring the fire station’s full-time complement of firefighters to six, are the first stage of a staffing increase recommended after a 2019 fire service review. The review compared Saanich response times to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and used projected growth in population and density, as well as the volume and type of calls, to determine staffing needs.

“We have made pretty good progress in some areas, but have been a little bit challenged on some of the staffing ones,” said Fire Chief Michael Burgess.

The department has not had any real staff increases since the early 2000s, he said, while emergency call volumes have increased by roughly 35 per cent over the past decade. Based on emergency response trends, combined with the growth Saanich is seeing, Burgess doesn’t expect the volume to go down.

The review revealed some critical information, including that Station 3 met the NFPA’s eight-minute response standard only 49.6 per cent of the time, that fire losses are increasing and the district’s most significant dollar-loss fires have occurred in the station’s response area.

Part of the staff increase there includes the creation of a dedicated two-person medic unit, which would roll to medical emergencies not requiring the full engine crew, or the engine itself. The move will help free up personnel to respond to fire calls more quickly, Burgess said.

Roughly 40 per cent of the Saanich department’s responses are for medical emergencies. The No. 1 hall on Vernon Avenue has a dedicated medic unit, but does cross-staffing, which sees firefighters assigned to the medic unit also part of the ladder truck crew. A similar strategy will be utilized at the No. 3 station.

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Station 3 has a large coverage area, ranging from the bottom of the Saanich panhandle north through Gordon Head and Blenkinsop Road, through the Cook Street and Maplewood Road area and everything over to the Oak Bay border.

The station’s increased call volume is related to the growth seen in those areas, the chief said.

“With one engine and a four-member crew, they’re probably out of the station more than they’re in the station, they’re that busy.”

Longer-term plans in the district’s 10-year funding strategy call for Station 3 staffing to increase by two by 2026, bringing it to eight, which will allow it to have a fully staffed engine and ladder truck at that site.

Burgess said talks are already underway internally about the options for expanding the No. 3 hall to accommodate the extra staff and apparatus. The District of Saanich leases the fire station land from the University of Victoria.

The chief applauded council for its foresight in approving a 10-year funding plan for the fire department that will help smooth out budget increases as the district grows.

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