Langford paved the way for a major expansion of its fire department during a committee of the whole meeting on Monday (Feb. 27).
After hearing a presentation of the fire department master plan, city councillors sitting as a committee of the whole approved a motion to add nine new firefighters this year and in the next two years for a total of 27 new career fighters, amid a loss of volunteer members.
All items still have to be voted on during a future council meeting.
Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey said the city’s composite model, which meant the department was primarily made up of volunteers, worked well, but external pressures like the cost of living and some members retiring means it’s been hard to retain volunteers.
In 2017, Langford council approved a five-year tax plan and one per cent tax increase to boost crew coverage to 24/7 at the Langford Fire Hall #2 on Happy Valley Road. The plan called for career firefighter numbers to go from eight to 20, and for volunteer firefighter numbers to go from 53 to 63. Career firefighter hiring kept pace with the targets, but since that time, volunteer firefighter numbers had dropped to 30 – half of what would be required to man the second fire hall, according to a city staff report.
With that in mind, the master plan calls for a move towards more career department members and for the city to be less reliant on volunteers.
“The commitment we’re looking for, it’s akin to a second job,” he said. “We have an amazing membership, we just need more of them.”
Of the 27 new members, four would go to Fire Hall 1 on Peatt Road, 20 would go to Fire Hall 2, two would be part of a fire prevention team, with one focusing on investigations and another focusing on education and outreach, with the final member being a captain in charge of training staff.
Those last three staff focused on specific areas are needed because, currently, captains are “two hatting,” according to Brian Hutchinson, who works with Emergency Management Group, a consulting company contracted to develop the plan. Hutchinson also emphasized the benefits of collaborating more closely with mutual aid partners in View Royal and Colwood to help cut down response times and find efficiencies in buying new equipment.
The plan contained 72 recommendations in total, with a motion also approved to direct staff to prioritize those during its budget process.
Hiring those additional firefighters would cost around $950,000 per year for a total of approximately $2,850,000 after three years.
In 2023, a 1 per cent property tax increase is approximately $380,000, according to a city staff report.
That means the new firefighter hirings would require a 2.5 per cent tax hike.
Ultimately, council approved the motion during the marathon committee of the whole meeting on Monday, which looked at several large items ahead of council reviewing its budget and five-year financial plan.
All items still have to be voted on during a future council meeting. In a report, city staff said the budget process would happen in late March into early April.
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