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LETTER: Fire marshal should be involved in station closure talks

Involving fire marshal could 'add legitimacy' to union's claims, says letter writer
Orillia Fire Department 6-3-22
Orillia firefighters are shown responding to a call.

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected] or via our website. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to an article about closures at Orillia Fire Station 2, published Aug. 23.

As a citizen who lives in the part of Orillia that Fire Station 2 serves, I was concerned to learn that it was closed for 10 days during the month of August.

I was pleased to read the OrilliaMatters article dated Aug. 23. In that article, Mayor McIsaac is quoted: “I want to reassure members of our community that our fire administration team and dedicated team of professional firefighters have operational plans in place to provide services when reduced staffing levels occur. The city’s fire service is further augmented by a complement of 20 dedicated volunteers and through the municipal aid agreements we have with our neighbours. Our community is well protected.”

I believe I have a healthy dose of skepticism towards both sides of this issue. I am hoping that Mayor McIsaac’s recommendation to the city to conduct a comprehensive review of the fire service will be approved and properly conducted, involving all the right people. I am hoping that the Orillia Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) is dealing with an exigent circumstance and not trying to negotiate their next contract through the media and a door-to-door campaign. Because the OPFFA has already engaged the taxpayers in my neighbourhood through the media and a door-to-door campaign, I think this is an appropriate platform to direct some comments towards the OPFFA and Mayor McIsaac.

  1. OPFFA president Brett Eeles is quoted in the aforementioned article as saying there are firefighters who are “willing and ready” to work overtime amid staffing shortages. I am truly pleased and thankful for the dedication of the firefighters who are willing to serve their community. However, the taxpayers of Orillia have not been given any assurances that this vacation scheduling problem was unavoidable, and the overtime expenses justifiable. Many organizations, including the organization I retired from, have reasonable but unpopular policies that limit the number of people and positions from scheduling the same time away.
  2. The OPFFA door hanger makes a reasonable claim that “our community’s safety is being put at risk every time they close Station 2.” But risk management is not about eliminating risk; it is about finding an acceptable balance for mitigating risks with the available resources. In this case, the available resources include limited taxpayers’ dollars. Risk management involves quantifying the risk, and beyond stating the obvious that closing a station increases risk, it does nothing to say that the augmentation Mayor McIsaac identified in the aforementioned article is either insufficient or beyond remediation. I am not saying that the evidence would not support the OPFFA, but I am saying that the differences in measured response times are absent and whether the differences in measured response times are outside established guidelines, if such guidelines exist.
  3. On Aug. 23, CTV News Barrie ran the news story, ‘Canadian firefighters unions call on Orillia to stop fire station closures amid safety concerns.’ In this report, the facts are different despite appearing on the same day. Closures at Station 2 are now over a dozen times in August, and it persists “into September.” I do find these facts concerning, but it is tempered by the fact that unions have a habit of standing in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters, and union representatives make broad claims that all union members are in full agreement when that is not necessarily true. Given the fact that contract negotiations are on the horizon, there is more than one foul odour in the air.
  4. If Canadian firefighters are so concerned about this safety issue, why is the Ontario Fire Marshal silent? I am not a lawyer, but from what I have read, the Ontario Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, S.O. 1997 states, “The Fire Marshal may monitor and review the fire protection services provided by municipalities to ensure that municipalities have met their responsibilities under this section and, if the Fire Marshal is of the opinion that, as a result of a municipality failing to comply with its responsibilities under subsection (1), a serious threat to public safety exists in the municipality, he or she may make recommendations to the council of the municipality with respect to possible measures the municipality may take to remedy or reduce the threat to public safety.”

I don’t claim to know the inner workings of the city or fire hall, but I certainly would expect that the serious concerns being raised by the OPFFA would compel the OPFFA president to involve the Ontario Fire Marshal to add legitimacy to their claim. I am encouraged by Mayor McIsaac’s proposed comprehensive review, and maybe this would be the best mechanism to engage the Ontario Fire Marshal on this matter. This matter needs a resolution through reason and due process, not through knee-jerk emotions.

Randy Baker