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Cornwall Fire cannot contract out to part-time or volunteer services

By Nick Seebruch

Published on October 5, 2018

Cornwall Fire Chief Pierre Voisine (background) presents to the Fire Master Plan Committee as Councillor Mark MacDonald (foreground) listens (Nick Seebruch/ TC Media).

UPDATE: The quote from Chief Voisine that reads: “My understanding is that I have to exhaust my resources. I can call in mutual aid at any point, but I have to pay all of my resources whether they come in or not,” Voisine explained. “I cannot enact any type of agreement to get additional resources unless I take work from my own personnel.”

Has been corrected to read: “My understanding is that I have to exhaust my resources. I can call in mutual aid at any point, but I have to pay all of my resources whether they come in or not,” Voisine explained. “I cannot enact any type of agreement unless I offer the work to my own personnel first.”

CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall Fire Master Plan (FMP) Committee heard this past Thursday that using part-time or volunteer firefighters could violate the collective agreement with Cornwall’s firefighters.

The issue came up as committee member Councillor Mark MacDonald argued that automatic aid agreements with neighbouring municipalities would allow Cornwall to use the closest firefighters to a fire.

“We can have automatic aid agreements which say we can use the closest firefighters,” MacDonald argued. “These agreements between municipalities have no conflict with collective agreements.”

Fire Chief Pierre Voisine had a different interpretation of the collective agreement, one that was backed up by the City of Cornwall’s General Manager of Corporate Services Geoff Clarke.

“My understanding is that I have to exhaust my resources. I can call in mutual aid at any point, but I have to pay all of my resources whether they come in or not,” Voisine explained. “I cannot enact any type of agreement unless I offer the work to my own personnel first.”

Clarke agreed.

“If we skipped over our internal resources and they said that they could do the work, that would break the collective agreement,” he said.

MacDonald had previously asserted on Twitter that automatic aid agreements and the content of the FMP would not break a collective agreement.

“As per the FMP we are allowed to use volunteers “legally” through the FPPA Automatic Aid Agreements, it does not break any collective agreements #factnotopinion,” MacDonald tweeted.

JD Sharpe, a labour relations lawyer with Emond Harnden retained by the City of Cornwall who was at the FMP meeting said that the FMP did not supersede any collective agreements.

“The collective agreement is going to supersede and you're going to have to pay whatever the collective agreement says you have to pay,” Sharpe explained.

At the beginning of the meeting MacDonald argued that new dispatch systems could allow for faster response times, and quicker determinations if a firefighter was out of range.

The current Cornwall Fire Service system can be used to send an automatic message out to off-duty Cornwall firefighters in case they are needed to help with a blaze. MacDonald feels that this system is “antiquated” and Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy asked if he had seen the system in person.

“I seen it on the internet,” MacDonald said. “I researched it on the internet. If you ping somebody and if they're out of the range, then they're no use to you. It’s antiquated!”

“If we ping them and they're not available we have a right through automatic aid agreements of going with the closest firefighters,” MacDonald went on to say.

“That is what we do,” responded Voisine, who explained that through mutual aid agreements, he was allowed to ask for help from neighbouring municipalities if all of his resources are exhausted.

Thursday night’s meeting was the last for this FMP committee before the 2018 municipal election on Oct. 22.

At the close of the meeting Chief Voisine recommended that the FMP be updated before things move along any further.

“I believe for us to do this right, we need to update the FMP to reflect the changes that have occurred over the past five, six years,” he said. “There are a number of recommendations in here that are based on questionable information. When I first opened this I questioned if I wanted to come because of what I found in here.”

Both the Mayor and Councillor Mark MacDonald agreed and closed by saying that this last meeting was the best meeting of the FMP Committee to date.

“I agree with the Mayor, it was the best FMP meeting so far, very informative. Great job by Chief Voisine. #cwlpoli,” MacDonald tweeted later.