Winnipeg firefighter shortages creating ‘unsafe situation’


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The United Firefighters of Winnipeg, the union that represents Winnipeg firefighters, has called out staffing shortages at city fire stations which it said are leading to an “untenable and unsafe situation” putting its members and the public at risk.

United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Tom Bilous said that all shifts are being affected and the shortages are causing engines and sometimes entire squads to be unavailable.

“That’s a safety issue for our members … it’s also unsafe for the (public) that’s waiting (while) those valuable seconds are ticking by and machines have to come from further away,” he told Global News Winnipeg Morning

Bilous blamed the city’s hiring practices and “an inadequate and outdated staffing ratio” for the shortages.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) has acknoledged that it is going through a repeated short-staffing issue. Assistant Chief of the WFPS, Jason Shaw, said several factors are at play, including Covid-19, burnout, long-term disability and mental health issues.

Bilous said at least 50 new firefighters are needed to fix the immediate issues, and the union is proposing a hiring blitz.

He said overtime shifts are starting to affect firefighters. “We have a very busy fire department, so we need that time off,” he said. “We’ve stretched the rubber band as far as we can and something’s going to snap.”

Shaw said nine people have recently been hired, and the service is working with the union to further address the shortages.

“We’re working through the processes, we’re communicating with our union partnerships,” he said. “We’re really doing our best to makes sure that we can get everyone back.

“It’s been challenging. We’re talking about very high call volumes and it’s been a busy time and we’re hopefully coming out of this.”

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