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City deals with long-term vacancies in deputy fire chief roles

St. Albert Fire Services is currently dealing with two long-term vacancies for deputy chief roles, an issue that the city says is worth managing in order to find the right people for the jobs.
The vacancies mean the St. Albert Fire Services permanent leadership team is only half filled. FILE/Photo

St. Albert Fire Services is dealing with two long-term vacancies for deputy chief roles, an issue the city says is worth managing while it finds the right people for the jobs.

The city's emergency fire and medical staff have been without a permanent deputy chief of operations since July 2022, and without a permanent deputy chief of planning and logistics since March. The vacancies mean that St. Albert Fire Services' permanent leadership team is 40 per cent vacant.

Director of emergency services and fire chief Everett Cooke said the deputy chief of operations role is currently being filled by a “longstanding member” of the department. City spokesperson Kristen McWatters was unable to say why the previous deputy chief of operations left the position, citing employee confidentiality.

“The deputy chief of operations is responsible for ensuring the timely delivery of fire and medical services for the City of St. Albert,” Cooke said. “These duties include providing oversight and support to our front-line staff, ensuring the operational readiness of equipment, and that departmental policies and procedures align with the needs of our residents and industry best practices.”

Cooke said the deputy chief of planning and logistics is a new position created through a leadership reorganization earlier this year.

“By combining the roles of deputy chief of logistics and safety with the deputy chief of emergency management and administration, this new role focuses on the business side of our operations,” he said, such as contract management and annual budgets.

While Cooke didn't describe the vacancies or the hiring process as an ongoing struggle for the city's first responders, he did say that the hiring process isn't “as timely as one would hope.”

“The Fire Services leadership team has taken a very deliberate approach to filling any vacancy within the team,” he said. “In addition to meeting the requirements of the position, our search includes evaluating a candidate’s fit and interaction with other staff.”

“Our goal with each hiring process is to ensure each position is filled by a qualified individual who is committed to providing the necessary supports to the members of St. Albert Fire Services while promoting the strategic direction of both the department and the city.”

Cooke said although the hiring process isn't always efficient, the city has found it to be a success with the recent hiring of two assistant chiefs who will work under the two deputy chiefs once the vacancies are filled.

“The effort invested in finding the right person for the position is what is best for the department and the City,” Cooke said.

St. Albert Firefighters Union president Greg Harvey said the union would rather the city take the time to hire the right people for the jobs than hire potentially unqualified candidates.

“Taking the time to do it right, it's much better than hiring for the sake of hiring,” Harvey said. “The industry is not that basic and I've noticed a lot of postings for chief and deputy chief (in other municipalities), so the pool is very thin.”

Harvey also said he hasn't heard many concerns from union members about the vacancies, nor has he heard from members that the vacant positions are making the job more difficult.

“They understand that the process is ongoing,” he said.

“Day-to-day we're doing well, so taking the time to fill it with the right person is more important than just filling it with a person.”

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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