Iqaluit’s growing population brings emergency calls to all-time high: fire chief
Iqaluit’s growing population has caused emergency calls for service to double over the past five years, and the city’s fire chief expects that number to keep rising.
As a result, the fire department has had to learn to prioritize emergencies over the phone when too many calls come in at once, said Fire Chief Steve McGean.
“Basically, have to triage over the phone,” he said, adding that typically happens 25 to 30 times a month but has gone as high as 70.
If the city’s two ambulances are being used, McGean said, the department has on-call staff who can come in and take a firetruck to assist someone requiring medical attention.
The city used to only need two emergency responders working at once. That number has increased to three, but McGean said he tries to keep five on the floor.
The fire department received 4,127 medical or fire-related calls in 2022, he said, which is an all-time high and about double the number of calls received in 2018.
This is due in part to the city’s growth, a busy fire department that also transports medical travellers to and from the airport and hospital, and even simply residents being more comfortable asking for help.
“People have no issues calling the emergency line,” he said.
McGean expects this number to continue to rise along with the city’s population and the new medical boarding home becoming operational.
The RCMP has also seen an increase in calls for service in Iqaluit — a 61.89 per cent uptick between 2017 and 2021, before a six per cent drop-off in 2022.
RCMP Chief Supt. Andrew Blackadar said violent crime across Nunavut is trending down. (Photo by David Venn)
Chief Supt. Andrew Blackadar said that number doesn’t say much about the crime rate in Iqaluit.
Instead, the increase could be due to a change in the way police organize calls, people being forced to stay in overcrowded spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the opening of the Beer and Wine Store.
“We’re seeing that right now in Rankin Inlet, like probably 600 to 700 calls more for service since the beer and wine store opened there,” he said. “That’s to be expected.”
But calls for service don’t tell the full story of the RCMP’s activity in the territory over the past few years.
In Nunavut, crimes against people — assaults and sexual assaults, for example — went down nearly three per cent between 2020 and 2021, but increased throughout the rest of Canada, Blackadar said.
Property crimes are up 23 per cent in Nunavut, about 24 per cent higher than the rest of the country.
Although these numbers are territory-wide, they could be indicative of Iqaluit’s recent crime rate as well because the territory’s largest community would have a lot of sway on the percentage, he said.
Overall, Nunavut’s violent crime severity rate — based on the volume and severity of crimes reported to police — is six times higher than the national average, according to Statistics Canada.
“What’s good for us is we see violent crimes are trending down — even though it’s still high, they are trending down,” Blackadar said, adding that could be a product of programs the Government of Nunavut, Inuit organizations and RCMP are running.
For example, he said, RCMP in Sanikiluaq run a volleyball team for kids and that has helped to de-escalate encounters when those officers are on-duty and policing.
“We have to have our police out there in the community. We have to get to know the people that we police,” Blackadar said.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News