Airdrie Fire Deptartment working to reduce per capita costs

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The Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) continues to provide excellent service and value, according to its fire chief, despite the fact the department had some of the highest per capita costs in a report recently released by the Alberta Municipal Benchmarking Initiative.

“We use a seven minute benchmark (for response time) and we’re consistently at about five minutes and 36 seconds,” said AFD Fire Chief Kevin Weinberger. “We’ve maintained our 64 firefighters since 2014. With population increases, we haven’t had to hire anyone. I would say this makes us good value for the money.

“We continue to improve on overtime costs. We do more stuff on shift, like training, committee work, internal committees – we try to do that on shift to reduce overtime costs.”

The cost of the AFD per capita to residents was $278 in 2012, $262 in 2013 and $255 in 2014. Medicine Hat, which had a population most similar to Airdrie’s during the period covered by the study, employed 72 firefighters in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and had per capita costs of $212, $215 and $234 respectively.

Cochrane recorded the highest per capita cost – $308 in 2014 – while Wetaskiwin recorded the lowest – $72 in 2014. The population of Cochrane in 2014 was 20,708, Wetaskiwin had a population of 12,621 and Airdrie recorded a population of 54,891.

According to the chief, the per capita cost is going down for Airdrie year over year, despite increases in population, because the AFD hasn’t had to hire any new firefighters and because of other efficiencies, like the reduction in overtime costs.

Weinberger said the study – which began in 2013 and hit some road bumps due to changing provincial governments and priorities – isn’t perfect but it does allow his department to compare itself on some factors to other services in similar sized cities.

“It’s very difficult to compare an Airdrie to a Banff or an Airdrie to a Wetaskiwin because there are so many differences,” he said. “We can mine out the data between the Lethbridges, the Medicine Hats, the Red Deers – similar size departments, similar size cities, roughly – and we can certainly use some of that.

“For example, if Lethbridge has seven staff in their fire prevention bureau – are we ahead of them? Are we behind them? Same thing with the number of inspections – are we doing something similar? Are the communities similar that we should be doing this or we should be doing that?”

The report looks at data from 2012 through 2014 and consequently is quite dated. Weinberger said he’s hopeful some elements of the report can be re-purposed.

“We can build some templates out of these documents to make the information current,” he said. “The benefit is that we can look at trends, year to year. Everybody comes up with ideas and maybe we can say, ‘that might work for us, based on levels of service and things like that.’”

Firefighters in Airdrie are funded by the City of Airdrie and are the only unionized city staff. Ambulance service is provided through Alberta Health Services (AHS). The other fire departments included in the study are each funded quite differently, with some, including Banff, being fully volunteer.

“We do medical co-response with AHS but get no funding for that,” Weinberger said. “I provided our statistics and our costs (for the study) but this is something I would never compare to (the other fire departments) because their service levels are completely different – their response times, targets, all that.”

Ultimately, Weinberger said the report, while it has its flaws, does provide the AFD with some important information on how it stacks up against other fire departments.

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