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Goulds area of St. John's deserves full-time firefighters: union

St. John’s Fire Fighters Association president Craig Smith
St. John’s Fire Fighters Association president Craig Smith - Juanita Mercer

Concerns about a lack of full-time firefighters serving Goulds have surfaced again.

It’s been an issue for the firefighters’ union, St. John’s Fire Fighters Association, going back to at least 2005, according to The Telegram’s archives.

The Goulds station is a composite department made up of both full-time and volunteer firefighters.

While paid, career firefighters run the Goulds station weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the other 76 per cent of the time Goulds residents receive fire protection services from volunteers in their community — this despite paying the same mill rate as all other City of St. John’s residents, who are served 24-7 by career firefighters.

“Operationally, as long as we meet the standards that we fall under appropriately, then I leave that to others to decide if they’d like to see a full-time station.”

Chief Sherry Colford,
St. John’s Regional Fire Department

“They’re receiving professional career firefighters 25 per cent of the time when they should — and they deserve — to have a 24-hour station in there after 26 years of amalgamation with the City of St. John’s,” said St. John’s Fire Fighters Association president Craig Smith.

Meanwhile, ward councillor for the Goulds, Wally Collins, said the area will likely get full-time firefighters within a couple of years.

He said the volunteers do an excellent job and the community is proud of them.

St. John’s Regional Fire Department Chief Sherry Colford.
St. John’s Regional Fire Department Chief Sherry Colford.

Collins said “there is some concern” about response times but added it’s “not a major concern” for him.

So far for 2018, the average response time for the Goulds full-time day shift is five minutes and 12 seconds, while the volunteers have an average time of seven minutes and 25 seconds.

SJRFD Chief Sherry Colford said the volunteer times exceed the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines for volunteer departments. NFPA guidelines state volunteer departments should meet a response time of nine minutes 90 per cent of the time.

“You do get a little bit of a different level of service when you are volunteer versus full-time,” said Colford.

She said she would not be happy with the Goulds response times if it was a full-time department because there’s a different standard for full-time firefighters.

Colford said it’s not her place to state whether or not Goulds should have a full-time rather than composite department.

“Operationally, as long as we meet the standards that we fall under appropriately, then I leave that to others to decide if they’d like to see a full-time station.”

Concerns about lack of responses

Smith said he’s concerned about what appears to be a lack of response from Goulds volunteers on multiple occasions.

Response time data was provided to The Telegram by SJRFD.

The data indicates dates and times for when firefighters are dispatched, when they leave the station, and when they arrive on scene.

For 2018, there are 12 blank spaces in the Goulds volunteer data charts for on-scene arrival times. Seven of those spaces are also missing an en route time, meaning they were dispatched but never did leave the station.

“(Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove has) to wait for a Mount Pearl station and possibly the station on Topsail Road to travel through a jurisdiction (Goulds) whereby there is a station, there is equipment, and there is manpower on the payroll of the City of St. John’s that could fill that station 24-7 and it’s not happening.”
Craig Smith,
St. John’s Fire Fighters Association president
 

However, Colford said there is a wide range of reasons why volunteers would be dispatched but never end up leaving or arriving on scene.

She said, for example, it could be that the call was put out but then it was determined the firefighters were not needed.

The 2018 data for Goulds day shift — the full-time firefighters—is not missing any data for en route or arrival times.

Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove a concern

There are also concerns about long response times to Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, an area that has a service agreement with the SJRFD.

Because Goulds volunteers only respond to the Goulds area, calls for Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove are dispatched out of other stations after hours and on weekends.

 “They have to wait for a Mount Pearl station and possibly the station on Topsail Road to travel through a jurisdiction (Goulds) whereby there is a station, there is equipment, and there is manpower on the payroll of the City of St. John’s that could fill that station 24-7 and it’s not happening,” said Smith.

According to raw data provided by SJRFD, so far this year SJRFD was dispatched 14 times to Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove. Four of those responses were during hours that Goulds station was manned with full-time staff, and their average response time was eight minutes and 45 seconds.

During volunteer hours, firefighters came from Mount Pearl Station or West End Station and the average time for those responses was 15 minutes and 36 seconds.

“I already know 20 years in this job that if I get a call two o’clock in the morning for a structure fire in Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, and my dispatcher tells me we have people trapped … when (we get) to that call eight, nine, 10 minutes later — because we cannot meet our four to six-minute response times from Mount Pearl to Petty Harbour — then I can assure you that we’re going to be making an announcement that there’s a death involved in that fire.”

Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove resident Tanya Harvey said the service agreement is concerning for her.

“God forbid if something happens,” she said.

Requests to interview GVFD chief, Sean Hemeon, were not responded to by deadline.

juanita.mercer@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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