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Councillors approve motion to hire four new firefighters

Yellowknife councillors voted unanimously Thursday in favour of a motion to hire four more firefighters next summer.

The decision was met with applause from a group of firefighters who attended budget deliberations at city hall.

Councillor Shauna Morgan.

Councillors have spent the last three nights going over the budget line-by-line ahead of Monday’s expected adoption date.

Councillor Linda Bussey said the decision to add the four new firefighters was a no-brainer.

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“It doesn’t even need all this back and forth about what it costs,” she said. “I think it’s a question of safety and security. Safety for our residents and safety for our firefighters.

“It’s a decision that we just have to make.”

Originally, the motion called for the four firefighters to be hired in July at a cost of $182,364 – a figure that included full salaries and benefits for half a year.

Darcy Hernblad, the city's former fire chief.
Darcy Hernblad, the city’s former fire chief.

It was amended however, to include the cost of bunker gear, safety helmets, pagers and new lockers, bringing the new total to $222,000.

“There’s other money over and above just their salary in order to accommodate those individuals,” said Dennis Marchiori, the city’s director of public safety.

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Two months ago, a report found that the city’s firefighters are overworked, understaffed and challenged to perform even the most basic functions at times.

The Yellowknife Fire Division Master Plan, produced by Calgary’s Behr Consulting, recommended bringing on more firefighters and dispatchers as a result.

The division is also plagued by high turnover rates. In October, the city’s former fire chief, Darcy Hernbald, announced his retirement after 30 years of firefighting in Yellowknife.

Then-deputy chief Mike Hoffman left the division around the same time too. The city’s new chief, John Fredericks, only started work on Monday.

‘A must-have’

Councillor Shauna Morgan has been adamant about bringing on more firefighters in recent weeks.

“We’re spending upwards of a quarter million dollars per year on overtime currently and this could certainly put a dent in some of that,” she said Thursday.

“This is still quite cost-effective for the amount of services we’re getting and frankly just necessary for the sustainability of the fire and ambulance division.”

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Councillor Julian Morse added: “I did want to commend councillor Morgan for the work that she’s put into this issue, I really think the city owes her a beer at this point.

“I agree that this is a must-have.”

Morgan says it makes sense to hire the four new firefighters in July so that current fire personnel have time to adjust to new senior management.

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