City should consider part-timers within fire service: consultant

City should consider part-timers within fire service: consultant
Cornwall Fire Department

CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall should look at hiring part-time firefighters and even retain volunteers to augment the full-time people currently on the roster, said a consultant Monday.

Steve Thurlow of Dillon Consulting told city councillors more services across Ontario the same size as Cornwall are employing the use of part-time people and volunteers to add to the full-time people who are the first to respond to a particular blaze.

“The composite model is one of the most effective and efficient used across the province,” he said.

Volunteer firefighters make up almost two-thirds of all Ontario firefighters.

The Brockville Recorder and Times reported that in that city taxpayers could save as much as 35 per cent, or $2 million, by mixing its fire service with full-time people and volunteers.

Thurlow’s report, the city’s new fire master plan, suggested the city could still respond to so-called “moderate” fires with 14 firefighters, but the package released to the media Monday did not spell out whether those firefighters should be full-time, part-time or volunteers.

“What we’re looking for is a pool of firefighters…to help in the deployment,” said Thurlow. “Whether the municipality chose to make that on a schedule basis, or on a call-back process, would be up to the municipality.”

His comments resonated with Coun. Andre Rivette, who has been critical of the number staff within the Cornwall Fire Department and a plan to hire four more people to staff vacant positions on platoons.

“If you can’t afford it, that’s the way you should go,” he said of recommendations to hire part-time people.

Thurlow added the current policy the Cornwall service uses of calling full-time people into work to augment a deployment during a fire is not efficient.

“It’s not the most effective process given some of the technology that’s out there,” said Thurlow. “Also there’s no restraint on where that full-time person lives.

“You could have a firefighter living 100 km away and you’re trying to call them back to work.

“In my opinion you cannot force a full-time firefighter to live within a municipality. But you can have some say in where a part-time or volunteer lives through the recruitment process.”

Coun. Carilyne Hebert said council must still negotiate with the Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association because the issue boils down to arbitrated agreements.

But she added bringing in part-timers is not going to solve all the city’s problems to paying for staff at the fire hall.

“I don’t know how I feel about volunteer firefighters,” she said. “Basically what we’re talking about is on-call staff.”

Thurlow went to great pains to suggest city council makes the final decision on how to address fire risks in the city by way of staffing within the department.

News of Thurlow’s recommendations raised questions among the members of the Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association.

“We have no problem looking at it,” said association president Jason Crites. “But it’s got to make sense.”

Crites pointed out that at least for now there is no talk of removing full-time people at the expense of part-timers or volunteers.

Council received Thurlow’s report, which calls for a slew of changes within the service including studying the idea of adding another $7-million fire hall in the north end of the city.

Council still reserves the right to approve, or shelve, the recommendations.

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