New Westminster Fire and Rescue Service is set to start training the most recruits it’s ever hired in one go.
Acting fire Chief Erin Williams said the department made formal offers to the recruits, and they accepted, cleared their medical and reference checks and will begin training on May. 2.
“We have hired 12 this round, which is our largest ever,” he said. “Twelve is unprecedented here.”
Williams said the fire department looks at its staffing levels each December and tries to anticipate what its roster is going to look like the following year. Based on that, he said the department tries to recruit in February.
“We are trying to align with anticipated retirements and to recognize that we need to have enough staff for those events that come up like that,” he said. “Typically we do not get a lot of notice when staff retire, and it leaves us to wait until the next recruitment, so we are trying to get ahead of it this time.”
Williams said the new recruits will ensure the department has enough staff to fill its roster to its minimum staffing requirements.
“We have had enough staff. Due to COVID, illness and things like that, we recognize that our staff were getting burned out from working overtime shifts,” he told the Record. “This will really help alleviate that.”
Williams said the department hasn’t done a comprehensive analysis of its overtime, but he said there were definitely times when sickness was a little bit higher than normal. In terms of COVID, he said the department has managed pretty well.
“We haven’t had a huge influx of illness all at once; it’s been staggered – fortunately,” he said. “And we managed it through a staffing management model where people were encouraged to not come in if they were sick rather than come in and then find out they do have COVID and have it spread on to the hall.”
Richard Fong, the city’s director of human resources, said the department has experienced higher than normal overtime since the start of the pandemic due to roster vacancies created by voluntary attrition. He said those vacancies will be addressed by the latest round of hiring.
“The department’s suppression units were down four positions in late 2021 at the start of the recruitment process,” he said in an email to the Record. “That, combined with two promotions from union to management and six retirements spread out over 2022, brought the number of recruit positions to 12 in order to return to optimum staffing levels.”
According to Fong, with the new recruits in place, the department will have 92 union employees and five non-union employees (four assistant deputy chiefs and one executive assistant). There are also currently two vacant non-union positions (fire chief and deputy fire chief).
Diversity is “well-represented”
Fong said “diversity is well-represented” in this cohort of recruits.
“We will continue to encourage qualified applications from diverse populations to apply, and look forward to engaging through our DEIAR framework in our recruitment practices and hiring decisions,” he said.
In 2021, city council endorsed an “equity key performance indicator framework” that seeks to measure the city’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism (DEIAR) work throughout the civic organization.
“We were really trying to have our staff reflect the community that we serve, which is aligned with council’s directive to incorporate some of the DEIAR framework,” Williams said. “So, this time round, we did end up with a diverse group. But they still did the same physical fitness requirements, the same written requirements and the same resume requirements that are standard.”
Training set to start
Williams said New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services seeks a certain amount of pre-requisites, including the Firefighter 1001 training, either through the Justice Institute of BC or several schools in the United States, which is a prerequisite to becoming a professional firefighter. Once they’ve been hired, recruits are put through a training program at the Queensborough fire hall, where they’ll learn the New West way of doing things.
“It’s five weeks of an intense training program that we developed in-house that prepares them for rostering on our apparatus,” he said. “What we found is that recruits coming out of these academies, they still have to learn the way that we do it in New West; sometimes we have subtle differences.”
During the five weeks of training, the recruits will receive training on all the skills they’ll need to work as a firefighter, including hose advances, ladder raises, climbing a ladder, working from heights, auto extrication, hazardous materials response and technical rescue response. At the end of the training program, it’s expected they’ll be able to do the same job as the other firefighters.
“At the end of that they will go through an assessment to make sure that they’ve learned the disciplines to become a firefighter,” Williams said. “Once they are successful in that, they receive their department number and their seniority number and they are assigned to an apparatus.”