Chief John Lane said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is examining anti-theft options for its vehicles, following the dramatic police chase of a stolen fire truck last week. But the rarity of such occurrences has to be weighed against the cost of installing more sophisticated devices, he said.
Lane told reporters Wednesday it’s still to be determined if the anti-theft mechanism of the fire truck in question had been disabled or failed to work.
"We’re looking into ways of making the units are secure as possible," the fire chief said. "We try to keep our costs as low as possible when we acquire vehicles. All of those add-ons will cost money. It really becomes that balance.
"One has to look at the frequency with which this occurs — it’s not very frequent. That all becomes part of the consideration when we buy new apparatus and when we look at we’ll do with our existing ones."
Bai Farama Koroma, 36, has been charged with theft of a motor vehicle, two counts of failing to stop at the scene of an accident, operation of a conveyance while impaired by alcohol or drugs, dangerous driving, possession of a weapon, fleeing while being pursued by a police officer, and driving without a valid licence. He remains in custody.
Koroma is accused of driving away in a fire engine that was parked on the 1600 block of Henderson Highway while WFPS workers were responding to a medical call around 12:30 p.m. Nov. 29.
The stolen fire truck was taken on a high-speed, 30-minute drive along Henderson Highway and through the downtown before it was stopped underneath the Midtown Bridge. Police used a Taser to subdue the suspect.
Lane said the WFPS has few options when it comes to securing its vehicles while attending a call scene.
"Auto locks are likely a fairly expensive feature on a big truck," Lane said. "They’re not a passenger car. The features are quite different on a large piece of fire apparatus than they are on regular passenger car."
Staff turning the engine off and taking the keys, is also not an option.
"They do have to stay running, especially in the cold weather. Even in warm weather, there are a number of systems on the apparatus that require the alternator to keep running to keep enough electricity generated so they don’t drain the battery — radios, computers that sort of thing," Lane said.
"In the winter months, with water on board, the problem becomes one of freezing. And starting again, diesel fuel tends to become less combustible when the temperature drops, we need to make sure (fire engines) start again."
Earlier Wednesday, Lane told the City of Winnipeg council's finance committee the WFPS expects to overspend its 2019 budget by $1.1 million.
Lane said three factors were behind the over-expenditure: firefighter overtime costs ($500,000); increased vehicle maintenance costs ($300,000); and an inability to meet department savings targets ($300,000).
The WFPS-approved net expenses for 2019 is $133 million.
Lane said the service has a firefighter component older than most fire departments, adding overtime is used to cover absences from vacation and long-term disability.
Staffing has been a perennial concern within the WFPS, but Lane said overtime costs are considerably lower this year compared to others (when it ranged between $2 million and $4.8 million).
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.