Council defers request for new firefighters

November 2, 2016   ·   0 Comments

The Orangeville Fire Department will not be adding four new full-time firefighters to its ranks in 2017 after Town Council voted against a request from local Fire Chief Ron Morden at its Oct. 25 budget meeting.

Submitted as part of a local firefighting “master plan” earlier this year, Chief Morden had asked that council consider bolstering its local fire service with four new full-time members in 2017 and an additional four full-time members in 2018 after it was revealed the department was not currently meeting provincial response time requirements.

Addressing council at the meeting, Chief Morden noted that between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. the average local response time to an emergency is just four minutes, while response times between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. can vary anywhere between 11 and 12 minutes.

He told council that he believed the addition of the firefighters would go a long way towards improving late night response times and asked that the municipality consider making room for the hires, expected to come at a cost of $358,208 in 2017 and an additional $404,197 in 2018, in its budget.

“Similar to police and ambulance services, residents expect its fire department to respond to an emergency rapidly,” Chief Morden said. “With our current staffing model, circumstances could potentially come up where we aren’t able to fight a fire properly.”

He added, “There have been times in the past where we’ve had five firefighters (scheduled) and we have one away on holidays and one off sick and we’re down to three full-time firefighters on duty with nobody else available to work. When we’re responding to a fire, we need four firefighters to a team so we have to wait for a fourth member, typically a volunteer, to come in before we can respond.”

The Orangeville Fire Department currently consists of ten full-time firefighters and 32 volunteer firefighters and responds to emergencies in Orangeville, the Town of Mono and East Garafraxa and Amaranth Townships. If hired, Morden indicated the new full-time firefighters would essentially reduce the number of hours available for volunteer firefighters.

Council discussed the request at length at the first of its two budget meetings last week (Oct. 24), with Coun. Gail Campbell absolutely adamant this was something the municipality should be funding in 2017.

“Our local fire chief is here today telling us that our fire service is not consistent. We have a report in front of us telling us that our fire service is not consistent – that isn’t acceptable,” Coun. Campbell said. “A community of our size needs to have a consistent fire service. I think Chief Morden’s request is really important and something that council should support.”

She made a subsequent motion that the hiring of four new full-time firefighters be included in Orangeville’s 2017 budget, a move Coun. Scott Wilson appeared to support.

“I think we just need to move forward and bite the bullet. It’s going to be a tough one to bite, but for the safety of the people of Orangeville and the men and women that provide this service to us, I think we should move ahead,” Coun. Wilson said.

The rest of council were a little more hesitant in supporting the request, with Coun. Don Kidd pointing out the municipality had already hired two new full-time firefighters earlier in 2016. Chief Mordon clarified that the two firefighters hired in 2016 were brought in to offset extraordinarily high overtime fees, which peaked at $130,000 in 2015. Coun. Kidd went on to ask if Coun. Campbell would be prepared to amend her motion so as to see the Town hiring two full-time firefighters in 2017, but Coun. Campbell declined.

“We all know how important firefighters are to a community, but we don’t know a whole lot about what our savings or costs are going to be. It’s hard to support shelling out over $350,000 on four firefighters without knowing that information,” Coun. Kidd told council.

At its second budget meeting in as many days, taking place on Oct. 25, Chief Morden was able to provide a little more insight into the financials, stating the Town would save in the region of $60,000 in volunteer firefighting hours if it hired four full-time firefighters in 2017, jumping up to an annual savings of roughly $100,000 if they hired four more in 2018.

That information wasn’t enough for Deputy Mayor Warren Maycock who suggested that Town staff carry out a business plan of its own for fire operations in Orangeville, with a specific focus on the department’s staffing and facilities, before readdressing the issue in 2018. With a motion to include the hiring of four new firefighters in 2017 on the floor, council voted five to two against it with Councillors Scott Wilson and Gail Campbell voting in favour and Councillors Sylvia Bradley, Don Kidd and Nick Garisto, Deputy Mayor Maycock and Mayor Jeremy Williams turning the request down. The issue was eventually deferred until 2018 after Deputy Mayor Maycock’s motion to have Town staff look into developing a business plan of its own passed.

Speaking to the Citizen following the deferral, Mayor Williams said that while he would “love” to be able to bring in the eight additional firefighters Chief Morden has requested, he doesn’t believe it’s feasible with the municipality’s current budget.

“At the end of the day, this decision strictly came down to money. It’s not that it wouldn’t be nice to have the additional firefighters, the problem is that our fire service would be costing us $4 million a year if we approved it. When you look at the size of our budget, that would take us up to ten percent of our entire budget. It’s too much,” Mayor Williams said.

He added, “Right now I think we have a good fire system and I think we have a fire department that responds well to emergencies. I don’t see that there’s a real big issue here that we have to (bring in eight extra firemen). Can we make it safer? Sure, but the way I see it, it’s different shades of grey. It’s not just black or white – if we were solely focused on having a safe and secure fire service we could have 20 or 30 firefighters, but at the end of the day it just isn’t practical.”

Mayor Williams concluded, “Because of that cost and because of the fantastic service our fire department is currently providing, I’m most comfortable keeping things the same and moving forward doing things the way they’re being done now.”

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