The number of calls Vancouver Firefighters are responding to in the Downtown Eastside this year has jumped by more than a thousand compared to the first five months of last year.
Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney says the fentanyl crisis is definitely playing a role, but its not the only reason…
“Primarily a lot of that drive is on the opiate overdoses, addictions issues, and it is in the recent change with how units are dispatched.”
McKearney says the Fentanyl crisis is continuing to explode.
“We do have a growing opiate problem here with the Fentanyl overdoses.”
McKearney says they are returning the response area for the fire hall responsible back to what it was before.
“Which will shrink the district for that particular fire hall, to offer the services more right in that core. It is not going to create a problem as far as getting services to our citizens down there, it will take it back to where it kind of was.”
McKearney says its not the only change.
“We have changed who goes to those type of calls now. Primarily it was one of the units there, which is a medic unit, was doing a lions share of the calls. We have now structured it in such a way that it is 50% on both the units there. So it will cut the actual work load on a particular work team, one unit, down by a fair bit and balance it out.”
He says crews are also rotating through the fire hall more frequently in order to reduce the stress on staff.
President of the Vancouver Firefighter’s Association Robert Weeks says firefighters responded to 943 calls last month, maxing out its resources.
“Overdoses certainly contribute to that call volume, including the amount of people. I think the problem is growing on the Downtown Eastside, there is more people, more homeless people than we’ve seen in a long time concentrated in a very small area of Vancouver.”
He says there’s simply not enough bodies to keep up with the demand.
“We are down to 132 now, so a drop of 24 firefighters per shift. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s happened to Vancouver in the fast four decades. We’ve grown dramatically, our density is much higher, our calls are much more complex than they’ve ever been and we haven’t seen a corresponding growth in our fire service with that increase in call volume and demand.”
Weeks says at the current rate, the firehall servicing the area is taking in more calls in a month than many entire fire departments in neighbouring municipalities.