Consultations on sweeping changes to Winnipeg fire-paramedic service delayed by pandemic

By | June 10, 2020

The COVID-19 health emergency has created a disruption for a 15-year master plan for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, but the service’s chief says it is not a significant setback for the long-term plan.

The sweeping revamp of service delivery will see a new fire hall built in the Waverley West suburb and other halls closed, with their crews consolidated in remodeled locations.

The 30 existing fire-paramedic stations would be amalgamated into 23 locations under the plan, which was presented in a report to a city council committee in March.

The master plan was scheduled to get significant public input following that, but then the pandemic struck, locking down residents and prompting a ban on public gatherings.

The city’s protection and community services committee voted Wednesday to bring those public consultations into the city hall process by allowing residents to appear at five community committee meetings and give their opinions on the plan.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane says while the public consultations are delayed, the plan stretches over many years and will not be significantly affected by the pause.

“This is a long-term plan. And so to have a few months intermission, if you like, in the in the process is really not material,” Lane said.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane says community engagement on the service’s master plan is important, and delays to getting that input will not significantly change timelines for the plan. (Travis Golby/CBC)

That sentiment was echoed by protection committee chair Sherri Rollins, who says a priority has been placed on building a new station in Waverley West. Consultations will go ahead, she said — just through a different process.

“It’s also important to prioritize the engagement for folks who are interested in their protection in the city of Winnipeg and their beloved fire halls,” the Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry councillor said.

The huge reorganization of fire response infrastructure was prompted in part by the needs of an expanding city and a review called the Fire Underwriters Survey.

It found the city’s response times were slipping and its safety ratings were falling, which could have caused fire insurance premiums to rise.

“It found that if we did nothing, our ratings would have worsened,” Lane said.

Emergency management revamp

The protection committee also approved a new emergency management bylaw, creating a structure for how the city prepares and responds to emergencies.

Provincial legislation enacted in 2016 obliged the city to update its emergency co-ordination structure.

The new bylaw creates two bodies. One is an emergency management leadership team, consisting of politicians, including the mayor, the chiefs of the fire and police services, and members of the city’s senior staff.

The other is a community emergency advisory committee, made up of appointed members of the community.

Coun. Rollins says the advisory committee will provide a “critical voice for vulnerable people,” including seniors, to express “what a local state of emergency looks like for them.”

The bylaw also compels various city departments to train and equip staff with communications capability to effectively meet their responsibilities under the city’s emergency management protocols.

Lane says the new bylaw provides the “nimbleness” that is needed in times of emergency, and provides accountability on the response through the city’s chief administrative officer.

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