Burning Through Tax Dollars

“It is worth our passions as it is with fire and water; they are good servants but bad masters” – Aesop’s Fables 1692

I am really upset with this most recent suggestions from our local government to cut $9 million from our fire departments budget. This is no way to manage a progressive city, public safety should never be used as a cost saving measure. I find this particularly upsetting considering it has recently been identified that Calgary owned golf courses have lost over $2 million in the past two years while being subsidized by the City. Now I have no issue with golf or City involvement in assisting recreational facilities success but I do take issue when programs that threaten public safety pay the price for political expediency.

Calgary 1964, 9th Ave before the Tower, Palliser Hotel standing tall

I love Calgary and have spend 40 years of my life here. I have also taken time to live in other cities in all parts of Canada while few of the people I grew up have. They have spend their entire life here and really have no idea just how well off Calgary actually is comparatively speaking.

Many still think of Calgary (or like to) as that sleepy little cowtown of 45 years ago. I don’t. Having left and returned five different time I have observed the difference between sleepy town and thriving metropolitan. It is like those relatives you see every three or four years, you are much more aware of the changes because you haven’t seen them every day. The relatives have so they don’t recognize the change as much, they have been part of the evolution. To me, every time I have returned to Calgary I have noticed the changes and they really have been massive, mainly in a good way

Since returning to Calgary I moved back into the inner city 17 floor condo building I lived in ten years ago. I consider where I live to be a microcosm of the City around me. There use to be a sense of community in this building that just isn’t here anymore. It’s still a nice building (about 30 years old) but the demographics have changed and some of that sense of community has changed. That is something that is reflected in the “city sprawl that has gone on over the past fifty years.

I experienced the effectiveness of the Calgary Fire Service just recently. For the first time since I first lived in this building (now or back in 2009) we had the fire department respond when the alarm went off. The fire department was excellent and arrived very quickly, under five minutes. Unfortunately all of the tools that should have been available to them wasn’t. When the alarm went off (7:50pm) I didn’t really do much, I knew there were suppose to be emergency plans in place and that nature would take its course.

I couldn’t smell smoke and I couldn’t see flame licking away at the building so I just stayed in my recliner. As a retired policy analyst with the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner I know the standard and regulation relatively well. Being in a wheelchair I knew the elevators would lock down so it is always best to just wait in my condo.

The fire department was kept here for almost an hour with the alarm being shut off at 8:45pm. Traditionally, and based on fire regulations, the fire department immediately check the status of the alarm. They then go to a lock box that is suppose to include a “list of vulnerable residence” (in other words people living in the building that wouldn’t be able to use the stairs). If required they will respond to those on the list that may be trapped for any number of reasons in their suite. Basically people like myself who wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre the stairs due to wheelchair or mobility. If the threat wasn’t serious the fire department would shut down their operation and move on to the next call. Traditionally the condo staff person would then check on those on the list to reassure them all was well. That didn’t happen. I discovered the next day there was no list in the lock box and condo management company wasn’t aware of the regulations (which I have now send them copies of).

Last year Council voted to change the fire response time from seven minutes to ten minutes despite the fire chiefs recommendations. Why is public safety threatened whenever we need to reconcile budgets while we subsidize golf courses? I have no issues with supporting community sports or other community programs but I do take issue when funding for public safety is threatened. I find it even more insulting when developers, property managers and condo management companies download their responsibility onto tax payer public safety services.

The first time Calgary burnt

In 1886 Calgary was almost destroyed due to fire and lack of services. This opened the door for written standards and a demand for sandstone buildings. That’s part of our history. Whenever we undo part of our public safety system we move backwards. My message to City Council, we don’t need management by crisis. We need proactive planning, not reactive knee-jerk actions based purely on optics.

Calgary is full of some beautiful old wooden construction. Take a walk through the Inglewood-Ramsey area, as an example. We cannot afford to threaten areas like that as a means to save money. Nine million dollars removed from an already over taxed public service is the crux of my opening quote. We want fire and water as good servants, not masters of disaster. Let’s work as a community and get away from that silo management style. Keep our fire department strong, show out fire fighters and first responders that you have their backs, not their wallets.

Return to Sender

“A lesson learnt and not shared is destined to become a lesson lost on wasted time” – Terry Wiens (2019)

I stopped writing about six weeks ago thinking my publishing days were over. In part because one just gets tired of writing the same thing over and over by finding different words but also in part that most people just weren’t getting the message. For over forty years I have tackled the issue of “access” from every conceivable angle, ramps to curb cuts, alternative formats to audible signage and then a light went on. Access wasn’t the real issue, access was simply a tool.

The real issue lay in building an inclusive community, access was a way to ensure everyone in a community could be part of that community. The disabled activists of the 70’s and 80’s had spend years defining “accessible” as physical. In todays world accessibility is simply one tool to an “inclusive” community that is welcoming to everybody. You can put all the ramps into a library you want but that doesn’t mean it is accessible to someone with a visual disability. So now we have to undo terminology that took thirty years to establish and for me, I’m tired, that is the battle for the new generation. Time to step back and let the next generation take over.

This kind of re-enforces my reasons for stepping back. In the midst of file purging I came across some of articles from my day as a columnist with the Alderlea Magazine. They served as a physical reminder of how long and hard I had been beating this drum while questioning if it was all worth it. As a polio survivor I have dedicated much of my life fighting for disability rights and community inclusion while identifying it as access. I don’t want to get involved with an old process using new language. Words are important but they keep changing. It is difficult to walk away from what had been a big purpose in my life but at some point we all have to accept certain realities.

Historically, for half of my life, I was considered a “non” citizen. Even the right to vote for anyone with a disability was based on the whim of the voting poll manager up to the mid 70’s. There was no Charter in those days so there were no regulatory protections. I could be refused a job interview based purely on me identifying my use of crutches. I could also be refused rental units based purely on my disability so we have made some major moves forward but the world of disability has changed. So it is time to step back.

With that said I have also returned to Calgary to retire in. Calgary has always been my “comfort city” and has always been where I identify as home. So it is nice to be back home. What I find disheartening since my return is how fracture and divisive Calgary has become. I love this city and it tears me up to see how the city is tearing itself apart. So I may stop pushing access (“inclusion”) ands start speaking out on Calgary issues. I want this city, and believe it can be, to get back to the days where it was a city full of people who were proud of Calgary. Right now I am seeing fractured and polarized citizens that want to keep blaming others for issues rather than being part of the solution to keep Calgary the welcoming city it use to be. For now…

Life Long Memories
As I look back down my path of life,
The up’s and downs, rewards and strife,
What have I learnt? I ask my soul,
Was I helpful or was I drool?
Did I do right by all my friends?
Who will gather when my life ends?
Have I left my son a legacy clean?
Have I left him foes, spiteful and mean?
The questions we ask as we move through the years,
Reflections of memories, love, joy, and tears,
Memories that make us what we are today,
The love we have gathered from all those that stay,
The joys of experience of a lifetime abound,
The tears we have shed for those all around,
We are what we do; we are what we’ve made,
Hold onto your memories, let them not fade.

-Terry Wiens May 2006