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.

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