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This article was published 14/9/2015 (1797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It sounded like another one of those stories about the decline of civic services. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service says it can save taxpayers $17 million -- by closing five stations.
That's hardly good news if it means reduced fire protection. The fine print in this story, however, revealed something that has not been pressed hard enough at city hall. Innovation.
It turns out you can get more out of less, with help from new technology and inventive thinking.
In a report to be considered today by the city's alternative services committee, the WFPS will recommend merging two fire halls into one, closing three ambulance or EMS stations and relocating them to existing fire halls, and closing a maintenance garage.
It would save the city $17 million, which would then be used to replace antiquated fire halls with new facilities.
The city has 27 fire halls and three EMS stations, but if the department's plan were implemented, the mergers and redeployments would leave the city with fewer buildings.
It all seems somewhat counter-intuitive for a city that is growing and expanding, with new subdivisions that need fire protection. How would a seemingly shrunken service meet minimum response times?
Well, it involves an innovation known as traffic signal preemption, which allows emergency services to control intersections so they always have a green light.
The technology has not been implemented yet, but it was approved in last year's civic budget. Not only would it assist emergency services and improve response times, which would reduce insurance rates for affected neighbourhoods, it could also be used by transit, snow plows and other city equipment.
In addition to the fire department's request, the alternative services committee will also consider a series of other innovative proposals, the first to be made under a $1-million innovation fund set up earlier this year to find new ways of delivering better civic services.
Some of the other proposals to be considered include: a web-based case management system for the intake, processing, and tracking of requests for access to information; a new integrated records management and archival program; a software solution that would allow staff to detect changes to real property from their desktop; an interactive capital financial reporting system, and more.
Some of these ideas will save time and money, as well as streamlining services and making information more readily available.
These early ideas are not earth-shattering, but hopefully they are the beginning of a fundamental shift in civic culture. Bureaucracies, for example, tend to suffer from inertia. They do the same things over and over gain because that's the way they've always been done.
It's a problem for the private sector, too, but the public sector has been more sluggish in pursuing innovative solutions, partly because it doesn't face the pressure of the bottom line.
Chris Builleabeau, who blogs under The Art of Non-Conformity, sums up the problem: "Systems are broken because they exist to sustain themselves, and the people who run the system rely on the system to stay the same. Why should they change it? It works well for them."
The City of Winnipeg has often seemed satisfied with its poor performance. If the system was slow and unresponsive, well, that's the way it always was, or so the public was often made to feel.
Cities across Canada have jumped on the innovation bandwagon to solve their problems, but so far there have been no magic solutions for the massive imbalance between resources and need.
There's no app for that. Not yet.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.
Updated on Monday, September 14, 2015 at 7:15 AM CDT: Replaces photo
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