City councillors approved a five-year strategic plan this week that will determine how emergency services in Greater Sudbury will evolve in the next five years.
The services – firefighters, paramedics and emergency management – were amalgamated in 2011, and the current staffing totals 651. An initial review in 2013 recommended 38 changes to the way the department delivers services.
The new, five-year emergency services plan is a more comprehensive review and sets the department's direction from now until 2020. One of the biggest challenges they face is the demands of Sudbury's aging population. Demographics in the city are expected to mean a 30-per-cent increase in 911 calls by 2021.
There is also $19-million gap in capital funding available in the next five years for replacing or maintaining fire services equipment, apparatus and aging fire and other emergency stations. When added with rising fuel and other costs, and new provincial and federal regulations, there's a huge challenge to be addressed, said Tim Beadman, the city's chief of fire and paramedic services.
The service hired a consultant to conduct a review and make recommendations on what steps to take, Beadman said. But not all of those ideas will be adopted, he added. For example, the consultant recommended closing a number of fire stations.
“But that analysis was based on where the call volume was, or where the station was, or how long it took to drive there,” Beadman said. “Our management team doesn't support that recommendation.”
Instead, they're using a review process developed by the province to assess where EMS should be placed within communities.
“There's a new tool the Ontario Fire Marshal just released that talks about risk,” Beadman said. “It talks about how to assess risk, about the three lines of defence.
“So it's not just about response – it's about education, prevention and enforcement. So we're going to put a technical team together and do that risk assessment, and then do that modelling later.
“But our priority isn't to close stations. Our priority is to fix problems.”
The plan separates priorities into five categories and includes such longstanding goals and integrating all 911 calls, including police. Others include reviewing emergency response plans in case of catastrophes such as major floods, terror attacks or global pandemics; public education; reducing duplication leftover from amalgamation; and a major review of operations that “includes personnel, equipment and stations.”
Among other goals, EMS should have a community evacuation plan in place by 2020, capable of quickly evacuating “hundreds or potentially thousands of citizens.”