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Budget cuts continue to put pressure on the Calgary Fire Department

Calgary firefighters responding to a call at the Victoria Park/Stampede LRT Station. Sunday, May 26th, 2019. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — They will always provide the best service they can, but with a lack of support, time’s are getting tough.

The Calgary Fire Department has faced curveballs before, but none quite like the budget cuts its faced recently.

“We are approaching a level where we may not be able to provide the level of service that council has asked us to provide as a long term target and also what Calgarians expect,” Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said.

Over the course of the last 5 years, the CFD has had a small growth in their budget to the tune of about $15 million but most of that money has been eaten up in inflationary costs.

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One of the main issues they face now is having to send off staff to do training required by provincial legislation — training that can leave stations stretched thin.

“We need to take people off duty to train, and we had a capacity for that which isn’t there anymore,” Dongworth said. “It’s kind of a compounding challenge every day for the people who run our shifts to make everything work.”

With the city continuing to grow and communities reaching even further to the north and south limits of the city, the lack of available services can begin to put people at risk.

One of those incidents being a fire in the new southeast community of Legacy where two houses were engulfed in flames and due to the location of the community, crews had to be called from other divisions to fight the fire.

“The other analogy I’ve been using is, we’re spreading peanut butter on toast and the toast is the city and the piece of toast keeps growing larger and we have less peanut butter to spread,” Dongworth said. “We’ve done pretty good at spreading it thinner, and thinner, and thinner and now we’re at the point that because the city has grown and we have less peanut butter, there’s going to be bare patches.”

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One thing that Dongworth is most concerned about is the near reality that they may be faced to leave fire stations empty for a good chunk of some days.

“People in some of the quieter communities may expect that they actually have a fire station and there is people in there and a truck, and there may not be at times.”

Dongworth says it isn’t as big of an issue to train new recruits, but training the current 1,300 employees proves difficult because not only do they have to be concerned about cost, but about the aforementioned issue of pulling current workers out of stations.

Dongworth and The Calgary Fire Department says it is looking to hire 20 new recruits in the new year, which is down from the original 40.

Though Dongworth says they do have to be cautious in adding new staff in case the CFD is hit with another reduction.