Letter: What’s all the noise about cuts to the fire department?

18

By Marty Kenopic
President, Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association

You’ve probably heard a lot in the past few months about how firefighters and the city are locked in a battle over recent cuts to the fire department.

The city claims there will be virtually no impact after slashing almost 25 per cent of frontline personnel. As the firefighters who are on the frontlines every day, we’re warning that an independent and comprehensive risk analysis should be performed so that everyone knows exactly how such deep cuts will affect not only public and firefighter safety, but also things like residential and commercial insurance rates.

The city’s cutbacks leave the department with just 13 firefighters on duty, which by industry standards such as NFPA 1710, isn’t even enough for safe and effective response to a fire at a two-storey residential dwelling, let alone a school, apartment building, nursing home, factory, strip mall or other commercial setting.

It also means our fire apparatus will be staffed with only three firefighters instead of four, which is not enough to initiate interior search and rescue or begin aggressive interior fire suppression when first arriving on scene.

An on-duty complement of just 13 firefighters also limits our ability to respond to simultaneous incidents, and not just fires – we also respond to serious medical calls such as heart attacks, haz-mat incidents, water and ice rescues, vehicle accidents and more.
Sault Ste. Marie firefighters have called on the city to request a comprehensive and independent risk assessment from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office. We hope they take advantage of that opportunity, because it would provide much-needed data about risk levels under the current deployment model.

On February 6, 2016 in Toronto, three seniors died tragically in a fire at a location that was not formally identified as a seniors’ residence, therefore inspections were not required. A comprehensive risk assessment would identify public safety issues like that in our city.
Whether our city decides to provide adequate fire department resources to safely and effectively respond to seniors’ residences and other high-risk location or not, a risk assessment will at least identify gaps in fire protection so that those building occupants can be provided with strategies for their own safety.

The Fire Marshal’s risk assessment process is comprehensive, and it’s free. And it would provide crucial information about public safety in our city in the wake of major changes to the fire department. We can’t think of any good reason the city would not take advantage of this opportunity – there’s simply no downside.

Here’s something else to think about: sometime in the near future, the insurance industry will likely request the city’s cooperation in a Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS), which is a detailed assessment of fire department capabilities. The resulting report is what insurance companies will use to assess risk, and set residential and commercial insurance rates.

A FUS is supposed to be conducted every 10 years; the last such survey in Sault Ste. Marie was done over 25 years ago. An insurance underwriters survey conducted today would find a much smaller and less capable fire department than last time.

The city’s lack of consultation prior to making these cuts was disappointing. But it’s not too late to voice your concerns. Call or e-mail the mayor and your councillor today and tell them you want an independent comprehensive risk assessment, so you know exactly how it will affect you.

We believe that if there’s one thing you expect your taxes to do, it’s keep your family and your property safe. As a resident in this great city, you deserve no less.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Joe,

    This isn’t just a Canadian problem, it’s also an American problem. Same stats, too many firefighters, not enough fires.

    marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/07/firefighters-dont-fight-fires.html

    Two articles now presenting the same idea. Union rhetoric or simple facts?

  2. This is for the one that think new product /house content are safer. Light weight construction and changes in engineering is for cheaper way to construct not for safety , just think about how many times you were thinking has a paramedic why aren’t they building get elevators big enough to fit my stretcher ,same principle. https://youtu.be/aDNPhq5ggoE check it out.Now you just die faster in your house if a fire occurs therefore more firefighters are needed more then ever at the start of a fire. I am a paramedic and understand the need of both side of the fence.

  3. Poor fire department cry babies. $100,000 a year job while getting paid to sleep. The most politically involved union boys making waves to get their way.

  4. Although Bill sounds like a frustrated paramedic, I have to agree with him. Why do we have such a big fire department in an era of better building codes, safer vehicles, fire proof building materials. I’m not saying things don’t burn but we aren’t experiencing an epidemic of fires anymore. Smokers used to be the main cause of house fires however the number of smokers have decreased by 75% since 1980.

    We definitely need more ambulances and paramedics as our baby boomers get older and it seems like the ambulances are roughly 5X busier than their fire counterparts with paramedics having substantially less staff and resources to boot. Firefighters will always be needed however do we really need so many of them? I don’t think so. And I really don’t like how they played dirty pool trying to force councils hand.

  5. The whiners will continue to whine, the new fire chief rained on their parade and did what was necessary.
    Getting these issues of too many overpaid fireman and too few paramedics ironed out was past due and we’re better off for it.

  6. If you would like to come and publically discuss this topic the Sault Association of Ratepayers is holding an “Acting for Change” Meeting Thursday March 3rd Russ Ramsay Room, Civic Center from 7-9
    If you would like to do a presentation please rsvp at saultratepayers@hotmail.com or phone 705-253-2645

  7. Eric… every time a Paramedic put their hands on a patient its important. Yes we do return home transfers when people are unable to walk to their home or nursing home. And yes we do emergent transfers to the airport to allow people to get to a higher level of care. If you looked into the stats Paramedics did over 12000 calls last year, and we cover an area that runs from Montreal River to the far side of Laird Township approx 88000 sq kms. While the Fire only cover city limits. Since the downloading of Paramedics to the city we have been kept at the lowest possible staffing level and even though yearly our stats have increased for service our staffing levels remained the same. Only within the last year has that changed with this new chief. Actually the Old Chief turned down FREE CASH from the provincial governement to staff another Ambulance. The city was studied for your suggestion of a transfer service and no one thought it to be profitable as return transfers don’t add up to the amount in larger cities such as Toronto, Sudbury etc. To shed light on your point about costings… Paramedics are 50-50 funded with the province. So that breaks down to 50 cents per dollar is covered locally through the dssab already and 50 cents through the province. On the flip side of that coin police and fire is 100% on the local citys dime. All the stats are available from the city of ssm website or freedom of info, but when you break down call / cost you will find that our Paramedics are some of the best bargains for your buck. Its not a Paramedic vs Fire thing people…. stop making it sound like the workers are in control of the ship here. Lost in this entire discussion is that NO ONE has lost their jobs within the corporation, meanwhile Essar and Tenaris have laid off more people than we employ in total. Since the chiefs plan was put into place NO ONE has died, NO BUILDING has burned to the ground that hasn’t been handled by the paid professsionals that were on duty.

    • FREE CASH?? Fifty Cent dollars?? Not sure what planet Governments give out free cash, however, I can assure you it isn’t on Earth. Everything with a Government label is funded through our (yes Terry, yours and mine) tax dollars….nice spin however….lol

  8. In My Opinion**, We are headed the way of Greece! – We can’t afford a “Gold Plated” Public sector! Champagne Taxes on Beer Wages! (see Greece, California, Detroit, etc.) Please, Don’t ask the Mice How much Cheese they deserve! ( it’ll never be enough) Oppression of the masses by the Bourgeoisie ( Municipal Gov. & Taxpayer Funded- Public Sector Employees) The Tail is wagging the Dog! —– P.S. I had 2 Firemen @ my door (& 2 sitting in the idling Big Red Fire Truck) (trying to) reading (@ an elementary level) — a fire alarm & CO detector pamphlet! ( & also discussing my Landscaping, fishing, the neighbourhood & other misc. topics) for 15 min. @ an approx. cost of (wages + benefits + Pension) $85,000 to $120,000.(per year) 40+ Firemen are on the $100,000 list. – I think a University Student with a minimum of practice @ $15 an hour for the summer, could have done a much better job. WTH? BUDGET ACCORDINGLY! But I don’t expect much fiscal restraint or accountability from government or Tax Payer funded Institutions, whose money is “bestowed” from “The Seemingly Bottomless Well of Taxpayer Dollars! Amen! **- Legally, I am entitled to my own opinion, although it might not necessarily be an exact fact.

  9. Does this assessment need to come from the mayor’s office? Can’t the fire department ask to have one done to assess these issues? What harm is done if the assessment is conducted? Knowledge is always better. If the city is over staffed, will the assessment indicate what the staffing levels should be? Is seems like someone is apprehensive to have it done. Why??

  10. Bill: With all the facts you have provided. Can you tell us what percentage of ambulance calls are transfers (Basically a taxi service from the Rest Homes to hospital or airport to hospital and vica versa) , or the calls for drunks that are passed out on the side of the road….compared to actual life threatening calls? I would bet the majority are non life threatening and could be contracted out to private patient transfer services, such as Ambutrans or Medivacs. We certainly do not need high paid paramedics performing these transfers. If utilizing a private transfer company, we could see a huge savings to taxpayers. So Bill in my opinion if we’re gonna cut the fat as you describe it , then lets get right down to it and get rid of as much as we can. I’m also very curious to see how our Ambulance Service will be managed once DDSAB board takes over, will they take into consideration the Ministry of Health’s past audits whereby our ambulance service was always given ‘A’ ratings, even with the so-called ‘critically low staffing levels’ we have had in the past?

  11. The Fire Chief needs to do the right thing and Resign. He said something false to council.He misrepresenting the facts and distorted facts in order to mislead council,omitted key information to deceive council. Exaggerated the truth in order to give a false impression of our Fire services.

    God detest a devious person, but His close friendship is with the upright(Proverbs 16:28)

    Now that you have put away deceit,each one of you. Speak truth with his neighbour (Ephesians 4 :25)

  12. Bill… As the letter states, Fire crews do not respond only to fire-related calls. They respond to medical calls, vehicle collisions, ice and water rescues, and hazmat situations.

    This isn’t a case of “union thugs” trying to get their way. These are dedicated professionals concerned for the well being of you and I and other citizens.

  13. Bill, you speak like a true paramedic with your anti firefighter rhetoric. Who else would have the big medical “vocabulary” and ems anti fire knowledge/worksheet to speak from. Lift your own heavy patients from now on Doctor wanna be.

  14. Give it a rest. Fire unions pump so much fear. Fact: fire related calls are down across Ontario, however wages and personnel are up. Fires are rare and make up a very small percentage of what fire departments do. Which leads me to my second point. A recent statistic from another large urban fire department in Ontario showed fire department used extrication (jaws of life) on less than 1% off all motor vehicle collisions they attend. Fire departments are only required on 2% of all medical calls (cardiac arrest) to begin prompt CPR. What is a fire fighter going to do for someone having a heart attack, which by the way is not the same as someone having a cardiac arrest. Oxygen administration has shown to be detrimental in patients with normoxic O2 levels. Technical rescues are VERY rare as are hazmat calls. The majority of fire departments now chase all fender benders, chase ambulances and respond to false alarms to continue to bolster their call volumes as an attempt to remain relevant in a time of the ever decreasing need for a fully staffed, over resourced and under worked fire service. The unions run the show and the fire chief has essentially been blasted by trying to reallocate the funds and budget towards medical response and highly trained paramedics. Shame on you Marty! The need for huge over funded fire services are no longer. Many fire departments across Ontario staff their fire trucks with three staff or less. Who runs this city? The mayor or the over paid union thugs?

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