At a meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, Kingston City Council voted to adopt an operational planning model to improve response times for Kingston Fire and Rescue (KFR). A report distributed ahead of Tuesday’s meeting recommended councillors approve the model, which seeks to “improve current and future service challenges” faced by KFR.
The operational planning model includes several elements meant to decrease KFR response times and optimize staffing in the City’s west-end and east-end service areas. To manage some of the existing challenges, the City’s existing fire station boundaries were adjusted in the second quarter of 2022 and will be re-evaluated annually, in order to “optimize response time performance to the greatest extent possible,” stated the report.
Staff will also begin to analyze response times for crews travelling from the central area of the city to the east end, in order to get a better understanding of the overall impact of the new Waaban Crossing. According to the report, “The Fire Chief will report any new findings and applicable recommendations as part of the annual reporting requirements listed in [the] Fire Services Bylaw.”
Staff also indicated that additional work is already underway to improve coverage in both the east-end and central neighbourhoods. As part of a 2022 Station Location Study and Response Time Optimization report, the Railway Street fire station in Kingston’s inner harbour is currently being rebuilt, “to accommodate appropriate apparatus to address the response time deficits for first arriving apparatus within the central and east side urban areas.” Work on the Railway Street location is expected to be completed in 2025.
Another major element of the model is an incremental approach to staffing adjustments. The report noted the number of career firefighters in Kingston’s west end has remained unchanged since 2003, despite significant population increases in that part of town. In order to properly address these concerns, the report recommended a five-year phased approach to increase and better optimize staffing in the area.
From 2024 to 2027, KFR will add 12 new urban career firefighters, eventually achieving a ratio of 35 firefighters per platoon, at a cost of $100,000 per firefighter. In 2027, work is expected to wrap up on a new west-end fire station, at which point 20 firefighters will be moved to the new location, providing full coverage for the service area.
By 2028, KFR intends to “further improve” coverage in the east and central portions of Kingston by shifting staff from central stations to locations in the east end. “The current data supports that urban coverage areas in the east and central portions of Kingston can be further improved by moving apparatus and staffing from the central urban area of Kingston to the east urban area,” the report added. The east-end changes will match protocols already in place in the city’s west end.
During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors had the opportunity to speak to the report and pose questions to Kingston’s Fire Chief Shawn Armstrong. Loyalist-Cataraqui District Councillor Paul Chaves, pointing to the fact that no new career firefighters have been added in the west end since 2003, suggested the City is “playing catch-up in regard to response times and fire staff.”
Chief Armstrong replied, “We embarked, in 2020, on an accreditation process which allowed us to look at a plan to mitigate the lag in response times, especially in areas where there was significant growth. And we looked at the west side and the east side as areas that may be lagging in response times, to say the least. We did determine that there were gaps in services to Council’s approved benchmarks, which are outlined in the bylaw for fire services. And this report was a plan to mitigate those gaps. It’s not just staffing in isolation, but it’s part of response capacity through boundary adjustments.”
Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos asked whether the changes recommended in the operational planning model “meet [the Chief’s] satisfaction,” with respect to a reduction in response times.
Armstrong responded, “Yes, the plan meets with my satisfaction. The opportunity to add staff and improve response times is part of a recent initiative with respect to our accreditation status [and] our continuous quality improvement. The idea is [not only about] adding staff… but also optimizing our capacity within the existing coverage areas through boundary adjustments and the additional staff [in] the west end.”
“We want to be operationally ready to go when the new [west-end] location is built,” Armstrong went on. “This incremental plan looks at that in a thoughtful way with respect to a planned process to train firefighters to have them ready so that when the fire station is built, they can hit the road running.”
The vote to approve the model passed by 12-1, with Councillor Chaves the lone vote against. It should be noted that Chaves did not directly express any opposition to the model or the report; however, there was some confusion between him and Mayor Bryan Paterson when the councillor tried to “refer [the] report with direction,” which Paterson indicated was not possible. “Because you already spoke, it can’t come back to you on this particular item,” Paterson said. “Once I move on to another councillor, you cannot speak more than once to a clause that comes up at a Council meeting, as per our procedural bylaw.”
Chaves responded that he had wanted to defer to other councillors who wished to speak and was not aware that he could not then go back and move to refer the report with direction.
Paterson then suggested that if another councillor who had not previously spoken wanted to put forward a motion to refer with direction, they were free to do so. However, no councillors came forward, and the motion ultimately passed.