Lack of firefighting resources putting south Winnipeggers at risk: union

A large chunk of southern Winnipeg could be at risk because there aren’t resources in the area to adequately protect residents from fires, warns the union that represents firefighters in the city.

Alex Forrest, the president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, told CBC News the union wants the city to build a fire-paramedic hall in the Waverley West area to help ease some of the pressure on the firefighters at Station 23, located at Pembina Highway at Dalhousie Drive.

“We have one fire truck that covers for the bulk of south Pembina Highway, Waverley West, the Perimeter Highway, up to University of Manitoba,” he said.

“This is an example of [an] underfunded fire-paramedic department that’s creating a dangerous situation for south Winnipeg.”

Forrest says only one of these two vehicles is meant for firefighting, which means this fire station is lacking resources to serve the city. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Forrest said there’s currently only one fire truck at Station 23. The other truck on site is a water rescue truck, which he says isn’t used to fight fires. 

“We all know that’s a death zone between St. Mary’s and Brady [roads]. These are the machines that respond to those MVA [motor vehicle accidents] and today we don’t have sufficient resources to even respond minimally to those calls.”

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, though, says while a number of the department’s vehicles are undergoing “lengthy repairs,” there’s no danger to the area.

“Yesterday, both engines which operate from Station 23 broke down and were [taken] out of service,” WFPS spokesperson Kristin Cuma said in a statement Tuesday, adding one was expected to return to duty later in the day, and the other should be in service later this week.

“At no time was the area around Station 23 (including Waverley West) lacking coverage. Resources were shuffled from other stations to ensure adequate coverage,” Cuma’s statement said.

“There are six engines and two paramedic units available to respond to incidents in Waverley West, that part of the Perimeter [Highway] and the University of Manitoba.

“Shuffling [fire-paramedic] apparatus is not uncommon.”

Budget has ‘bumps’ for fire department

Janice Lukes, the city councillor for Waverley West, told CBC News she reached out to the chief of the fire-paramedic service following a conversation with Forrest.

She said he told her WFPS is looking at renting or leasing another fire truck to better serve the area. There’s not a firm timeline for getting that truck to the station, but she estimates it’ll be about a week.

Lukes agrees there’s “for sure a need for a fire hall in Waverley West,” but that’s a plan the city is already working on.

“Everyone’s aware of this — it’s going to happen. There’s a lot of theatre and drama to get to the point where it does happen, but it will happen,” she said. 

The city has yet to allocate any money toward a new station in Waverley West.

The city has started planning for its new four-year budget. That includes a target of annual two per cent increases for police and fire services, which won’t meet or exceed the current rate of inflation.

“There is a road laid out to get us to a balanced budget in March … but there will be some bumps along the way,” finance chair Scott Gillingham said on Monday.