The 2016 decision by council to cut the number of firefighters is now causing Fire Services to pay for overtime. This is something the city was warned about at the time, but still became the topic of discussion during the last council meeting.
Councillor Paul Christian spent time before the meeting going through the numbers, as he claims he always does, and was left with questions. Councillor Christian was one of the councillors in 2016 who voted in favour of the staffing cuts and heard multiple presentations warning of some of the fallout if that decision was made.
“I noticed that as a whole, city staff salaries are trending at around 53.5% remaining on the budget run. Yet, I see fire services at 47.28%. And they are by far left with the least amount. So just wondering what the reason might be for that?” asked Christian.
“I recall last year, when we were looking at numbers at the six month mark. The numbers were, the salary numbers, were high, and it was a result of overtime. Do you have any indication or can you tell us what the overtime compensation has been so far for this current fiscal? Would you happen to have that number?” asked Christian.
Sault Fire Services Chief Peter Johnson told Christian that a large chunk of that is caused by retroactive pay and overtime.
“If you guys recall, we have four platoons, 19 firefighters on each platoon, with three people on vacation. So that puts us at 16 people available every day. That is our minimum on duty compliment. Every day, we’re at our minimum staffing levels. So, as soon as someone is ill, [we’re] into premium costs to back-fill to maintain our minimum on duty compliment for that day.”
Christian had one more comment to make before dropping the subject.
“That still seems like a very high number for calling in sick. I understand that you’re going to run a premium because people call in sick and you’re running with minimums because you have holidays,” said Christian. “ My concern is people calling in sick, given the fact that they’re working seven to eight shifts a month. That’s where I’m struggling a little bit, but I’ll save those questions for another day. It just seems that calling sick time should be at an absolute minimum. When someone is required to work seven or eight shifts a month. It seems to me that the frequency of calling should be a lot lower.”
SaultOnline reached out to individuals connected to the Fire Service after these comments were made.
What seemed to be missed in the explanation about the call-ins was this can be as simple as someone had a death in the family, child is sick or a myriad of other non-sick related issues which can occur to anyone on any given day. The minute they call in, because of running at the minimum shift requirement, they must dip into overtime.
A retired firefighter explained a little further what Councillor Christian and others won’t understand, as they have never done the job. You can’t do this job if you aren’t 100%.
“If you are not 100%, you can not go in to work. You would be putting the public and your other firefighters at risk. It’s not like a job where you sit at a desk and do nothing, you have to be ready to pull hose, rescue a victim and much more labour intensive work at the sound of the alarm,” stated the firefighter. “If they had left more than the minimum, they wouldn’t have this overtime issue.”
Stay with SaultOnline as we continue to bring you more in depth information in regards to the Fire Master Plan, including the plan to reduce Fire Stations and possibly build a new one in the middle of a high-density residential area.