Still a hot situation between City and Firefighters

22

The fire continues to burn between Sault Professional Firefighters and City Hall.

At council tonight, Fire Chief Mike Figliola will present an update on his realignment of fire services to date. Four paramedic supervisors and another four paramedics have been hired as part of the plan. At the same time,  eight of an announced 20 firefighter positions have been cut by attrition.  The reduction in firefighter positions has added up to $400,000 in cost savings . About $15,000 in callbacks and overtime has cut into that number.

Meanwhile, council has received a letter from the President of the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Firefighters Association that was penned to Ross Nichols the Ontario Fire Marshall.

In it, Bishop writes about his “grave concern over the current state of the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Department” On October 26, 2015, Sault Ste. Marie City Council approved a realignment plan, which would reduce the front line compliment of firefighters from 18 to 13, which is a reduction of 23%. The Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association received notice of this plan only five days before the Council meeting. Since the decision, firefighters have not received any direction on deployment or operational guidelines. He states. It has been over a year now since the inception of this plan, and we have lost 10% of our front line staff to date. Alarmingly, we have seen an increase in firefighter injuries and close calls. We are seriously concerned with the safety of the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie, as well as the safety of our firefighters.

The letter continues, “On November 2, 2016 the Ministry of Labour issued orders to the Corporation citing Fire Service Operating Guidelines as detrimental to firefighter safety, specifically that the employer has not provided adequate instruction or supervision to protect the health and safety of the worker during fire suppression interior attack.”

The City has until January 27, 2017 to comply with that order.

A comprehensive risk assessment is scheduled to be finished at the completion of the realignment plan in 2018. Though Fire Services is submitting  simplified risk assessments directly to the Fire Marshall’s Office in the meantime.

“The community is not aware of the gravity of some of the capabilities we have lost through the realignment plan” Bishop says. Bishop says Firefighters can no longer aid with fire rescue on the water. “our fire boat was sold on the premise that it had 2 right turning props, this was cited as a safety issue , Swift water rescue, this specialty area was community driven after major flooding in 2013, it has been cancelled after half the equipment was purchased and a handful of personnel were trained.” He also writes that, all contracts to monitor local business were cancelled.

“The reduction in staff, this quite simply changes how we can effectively fight fire, perform rescue, set up RIT, ventilation, rehab, protect exposures, establish a safety officer, and incident command” Bishop states. “The Sault Ste. Marie Mayor, Council and Senior Fire Management have refused to adhere to industry standards and best practices and further, have commented openly that since there is no legislated standard for firefighting in Ontario, they are not bound to adhere to any of these best practices.”

Figliola states in his update to council that the realignment plan is working. He says in 2014 there were about 30 ambulance calls that went unanswered. So far in 2016, all ambulance calls have been answered and ambulance response time has improved by 10 percent.

 

22 COMMENTS

  1. As a Community Nurse, caring for many of our senior citizens (often living alone in a Retirement Home with no family to help care for them, as their children reside out of town) I see over 50% of the homes with dead batteries in their smoke detectors. They are unable to climb up on stools, chairs or ladders in order to change the batteries; putting our beloved seniors at high risk for injury or death if a fire started. I buy 9 Volt batteries and change them when I can…but now I have to worry about whether or not our Fire Department would have enough staff or equipment to deal with the fire in a Retirement Home! You cannot predict an Crisis or Emergency…but we must be prepared for one!!!

  2. I’m glad to live in a community where priority is given to All emergency services. Not sure why anyone on this thread with any vested interest in the community would defend a reduction in any of the emergency service rather than encourage growth where shortages exist. Council please do a better job for your community and address the issue of EMS shortages rather than create Fire Service shortages.

  3. The more I read on this subject the shadier things look. They bring in a “Fire Guy” as the Mayor once called him and he hasn’t done a single thing to improve the “Fire side” of his service. Our City Council is ignoring the best practices of the fire service and putting all the city eggs in one basket with this guy. If they are indeed, putting workers in danger with their reduction of staff required on fire scenes, they will have to answer to that. I remember back in the beginning the Fire Chief said he didn’t look good in orange. Sounds to me like the Ministry of Labour is on to you now.
    Our City needs to ensure that their workers are allowed to perform jobs under the safest conditions. Even working in an already dangerous occupation such as firefighting. Who is going to be held liable when things go wrong?
    Yes, there are some of you who like to keep ranting, where will we get the money to pay for this service? We were paying for and getting this service already. Now we have less of a fire service, and still have tax increases. And yes the Province pays half of the EMS budget. Where do you think that money comes from? It comes from all of us. One way or another you pay. How long will this go on until the Province wakes up on the scam game that municipalities are playing? Paying 50% for this necessary service is a great benefit to us all and our city is playing a game that will end this process. We need our EMS and we need our Fire and Police Services. When the province pays half for one service, where do you think cities will make cuts? From the other two services. Then the city can take advantage of so called “free money”.
    The Chief states that there have been no instances since his increase to EMS that there have been no ambulances available. Maybe he has achieved the goal council set out and he can stop now. Will he or will they? No. It seems more to me that they are out to cut, cut, cut, telling us that they will save all kinds of money.
    Right now I’m looking for my tax break so I can apply it to the cost of sprinklers that I will need to install in my home because they have totally devastated the service I once paid for and expected to get for my hard earned money.

    If the city had done due diligence with a risk assessment in the beginning it would have provided them with exactly what the shortcomings of our emergency services were and then we could have started from there.

    Good luck Sault Ste Marie.

  4. The mayor wants to step in and intervene now because this has gone on long enough? Seriously folks? The mayor has been part of the problem. He has empowered this chief. He has allowed him to live 1 1/2 hours outside of town. He has supplied this chief with a city car and fuel. He is aware the chief has never been to ONE fire in SSM. He has not allowed the firemen or the former Fire Marshall to speak at no less than three council meetings when requested. He has accepted the reduction in service. I just hope the mayor wasn’t bamboozled by this chief like many on council. After seeing the chief and mayor golfing together this summer, I suspect the horse may just be driving this cart though. I guess time will tell.

  5. Ambulances unavailable is not a benchmark the Ministry uses. They use “Response Time Standards” which reference benchmarks the city must maintain. And if you look at the stats, our city has surpassed them every year. http://www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/program/ehs/land/docs/algoma_dsab_en.pdf
    This is just another skewed fact from the fire chief. Or maybe it is the decision that was made by him to remove the fire rescue boat from service because the props rotated in the same direction. According to Transport Canada Regional Inspector and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors stated no such safety concern. The list goes on and on and on and on…………

    • The air of entitlement of these public sector unions is appalling. They only represent their own best interests. Gone are the days where they used to represent the general population they were hired to serve. Self-interest rules the day, using self-created reports that utter gibberish. The unmitigated nerve they have demonstrated by telling us what THEY want, disguised as what we need. When they held us simple tax paying people ransom over sunshine pay list membership, unheard of pension plans and stupid things like ‘retention pay’, they long lost any sympathy or any ear of the general tax paying public – those that pay for their services. Kudos to Council for attempting to BEST serve the general tax payers of this fair City, with the ever-limited dollars available. Quit reading the union-generated self-interest reports, and get back to reality.

      • Bernie,
        For living in a City that was built by unions (if you actually live here) I’m surprised that you hate them so much, because most everyone in this City has or is related to someone who has belonged to a Union.
        As for the Firefighters Association, they have only asked that an independent comprehensive risk assessment be performed before any cuts were made. I find it hard to see how it is self serving to ask for an assessment to see if the cuts are putting the Public and Firefighters at greater risk. Maybe that is why Mayor and Council are against having one performed now.

    • The fact remains that paramedic services across Ontario are facing a crisis called “code red” which means all ambulances are busy and not one is able to respond to an emergency call. This is due to the aging population and it’s fueling an unprecedented call volume growth provincially. Some Ontario ambulance/paramedic services have seen call volumes increase 25% in five years, whereas most fire services have seen reduced fire related call volume responses. There is a huge funding disparity between paramedics, fire and police. Paramedic budgets are often half of their allied services police and fire. I’ve never heard of a large city not having any fire trucks available, but this code red status even happens in Toronto. The fact remains that some paramedic services reach “code red” status on a daily basis and it shouldn’t happen at all. The region of Waterloo is facing the same problem. They had over 14,000 hours last year in which an ambulance was not available at all. That is unacceptable. Loved ones are not protected and left vulnerable with the absence of care of from primary and advanced care paramedics. This is a provincial problem. We need to look for efficiencies and unfortunately the fire department budget needs to be looked at. Nearly every community and city is looking to scale back the big red machine. Fires don’t occur like they did in the 1970s. Better building materials, etc have made significant improvements to our lives. However people are getting older, and are 50X more likely to require the assistance of paramedics than a big red fire truck.

      • um, 14000 hours = 583 days.
        Wow. Waterloo must be in some weird time zone, where they have almost twice as many days as the rest of the world.

        • 1400, my error

          therecord.com/news-story/6952428-region-looking-to-hire-as-many-as-45-paramedics

          Unit hour utilization us pushing 41%. Fire dept is 6-8%. Police are about 34% That stat shows the percentage of time the vehicle is unavailable as they’re attending other calls. Fire is relatively idle most of the day.

          • Maybe the Fire Department is lower because they are just better staffed? Don’t beat down Firefighters for having proper staffing, go after the people who manage EMS to hire the appropriate number of Paramedics.

      • Can’t speak for your City but in the Sault whenever there is a fire, all firetrucks have to respond which in effect leave the Sault unprotected, “no firetrucks available”.

      • Scott Marks. The problem here is, the city is cutting one service to boost another putting these firefighters in a situation where they don’t have the immediate people on scene to do their jobs. Our first responders in all areas already have dangerous enough jobs, and the Fire Chief seems to be putting his frontline people in added dangers that the MOL has recognized and is addressing. Your issues are not with the firefighters. Instead of chiming in here, get on the people who put EMS to work. They are the ones not keeping you with enough staff to do your jobs. The huge funding disparity is something you need to address yourselves. Start doing your own lobbying as the other services have done for years to get to where they are. If the fire department budget needs looking at then by all means they should do it. But to justify cuts because another service is in need is not the way to do it. Can you please tell us what exactly you yourself are doing to improve the EMS service in this province? Myself, I would prefer to have fully staffed services in all the areas of our first response. Police, EMS and yes Fire. These are things that people rely on to be there when everything goes south. I just wish people would stop trying to justify cutting one service to boost another. WE NEED THEM ALL!

  6. Oh boy. Here we go. Let those treated by the EMTs hear they could be dead, because the firefighters wanted to protect their status quo. With a dwindling population & tax base Council is charged with allocating available monies towards necessary resources. Tough decisions have to be made, like no raise for council, or pay cuts, or reducing its size. All to benefit the city. Sure don’t hear that coming from the firefighter’s union. Increased injuries? Try working more safely. Common knowledge most firefighters have ‘accident’ claims covering 95% of their bodies within their first 10 months of employment – guaranteed WSIB protection for life. They could always go learn how to drive an ambulance…

    • In Canada we follow codes, standards, regulations and best practise. If a company fails to to follow these standards someone eventually will suffer. If we lived in a third world country, I would expect companies to cut corners and ignore standards. Fortunately we live in Canada where we have regulations and standards. It would be hard for employees to work safely if they didn’t have sufficient manpower and didn’t follow industry standards. It is common knowledge that most firefighters are physically fit often doing charity work throughout the year, not sitting at home collecting wsib. Sounds like a inaccurate statement based on your apperent disregard for their profession. The first 6 months of their career is performing dispatch. Not sure how 95% of them could hurt themselves in the first 10 months. Seeing that the chief lives east of Thessalon, one would wonder how much he has vested in our community. If fires are down 80% and the fire department has 4 fire prevention officers who frequent the schools why would we need additional fire educators? Too many inconsistancies in the cliffs statements. Council is to ignorant get the truth.

    • Burn-E. Didn’t take you long to chime in after the Council meeting regarding these fire issues. Were you even out of the parking lot at City hall? Myself. I will review the video of the meeting as I didn’t get to see it all and give you my take later on.

    • Bernie to say a firefighter “should go learn how to drive an ambulance” is an insult to Paramedics everywhere. First paramedics don’t just drive an ambulance, they are highly trained medical professionals who spend two years in college, followed by months of on the trucks hands on training by fully certified paramedics before writing a provincial exam and then only upon successful completion of the exam are certified to be a paramedic. Next they must obtain certification by a Base hospital physician to perform the delegated medical acts and maintain that certification each and every year as a mandatory requirement to keep their job. Don’t get me wrong we need of our firefighters but to make a disrespectful comment about the people who are really out there saving lives and not just driving around in an ambulance is not acceptable. The following link shows that Paramedics are 14 times more likely to be injured than a firefighter.

      http://www.emsworld.com/news/12161353/study-high-risk-of-assault-for-emts-paramedics

  7. So at tonight’s Council meeting the City’s Fire Chief openly stated that “if you don’t have a working smoke alarm we can’t help you” What a comforting statement from the head of emergency services. Are you kidding me!!!
    Again he spewed out his ongoing rhetoric about imminent death if the Fire is beyond 2 minutes. He may want to read his departmental reports particularly when three people in a west end fire last week managed to escape a fire that was well beyond 2 minutes.
    When will this individual be held accountable for his endless list of lies and blatant distortion of facts by the individuals that we the people voted in to address all matters related to the operations of our city, particularly when it comes to public safety.
    I’ve never been more sickened by the lack of response to this critical subject matter from our mayor and Council. Let’s hope that the public doesn’t forget this come election time.

  8. Just finished watching the Fire Chief give his report and I can’t beleave the number on contradictions he states. The most obvious was that in his report he states that “there were about 30 ambulance calls that went unanswered” in 2014, but during questioning from council he states the there were unanswered ambulance calls every day. That would mean that there was 365 unanswered ambulance calls in 2014, so what is it, 30 or 365? That seems to be a big discrepancy. Makes you wonder what other numbers he doesn’t seem to know or has changed to meet his agenda.

    • Excellent point JP and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
      All the more reason for a thorough independent comprehensive risk assessment including an audit of everything that has been written or communicated verbally by this new chief!!!!!

  9. Mayor and Council ought to ask some very specific questions regarding Fire Services budget and why there is just slightly over 6% left in their salary and benefits budgetary line items, as of the end of Q-3 with 25% of the year left. This is noted by the Finance Department in the Council Agenda for tonight’s meeting available on the City’s website. Unless I’m missing something, Fire Services is tracking towards a multi million dollar deficit. I suspect that the MOHLTC is not going to subsidize the additional 50% staffing for EMS and consequently salaries and benefits have spiralled out of control.

    It’s further appalling that Council has refused to acknowledge critical information presented by numerous experts including the former Fire Marshal on the shortcomings of this ill-conceived plan from an outsider that neither lives in the community or has any sort of vested interest.

Comments are closed.