Langley Township fire crews can run at full strength only if no one gets sick, Township Fire Chief Stephen Gamble told council Monday.
Whenever two Township firefighters go on vacation and one other becomes ill, crews drop below the industry standard minimum of four, Gamble said.
“We can have four guys on a truck if no one gets sick,” Gamble said.
The chief was providing a more detailed analysis of numbers showing every one of the four Langley Township fire halls with full-time firefighters will be under the minimum at different times this year.
The worst situation is in Aldergrove Fire Hall No. 3.
From Aug. 4 until Aug. 19, every one of the four shifts in Aldergrove will be operating with three-person crews.
Gamble said that is because two of the firefighters in the hall are off on long term disability, and there aren’t enough available firefighters to shuffle around to cover for them all the time.
Falling below the minimum does not mean increased risk to the firefighters, but it can mean a longer wait before firefighters can enter a burning building because a three-man crew is too small to meet a “two in, two out” safety rule that forbids them from going in alone.
Gamble said in an emergency, safety rules allow firefighters to go inside even if they don’t have a full crew, but only briefly.
“We can make an entry, but we have to be out of the building in 10 minutes,” Gamble said.
“And that’s not a lot of time.”
He said he could use a “few more bodies” on each shift to maintain crew levels.
The fire chief added the crewing problem will become “slightly worse” if no additional firefighters are hired, because people with increased seniority will become entitled to longer holidays.
Gamble said he is a “little worried” about what will happen with sick leaves this year.