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.