Why can’t the people choose their fire protection service?

The Pembroke observer reports the continuing fear-mongering by the firefighter’s union:

“Travelling in teams of five throughout town, the [firefighters] group handed out cards stating how town council has recently cut the number of its firefighters in half, and changes in the work schedule means the fire hall is closed 75 per cent of the time.”
September 9, 2017, http://www.thedailyobserver.ca/2017/09/09/deep-river-in-dispute-with-fire-dept

I sent the following letters to the Observer and NRT in response.

Why can’t the people choose their fire protection service?

RE: Deep River, fire dept. dispute (Sept 9, 2017), Pembroke Observer

The people of Deep River are paying Cadillac prices for a clunker fire service.

As a former Deputy Mayor of Deep River, I applaud the actions of the Deep River council for having the courage to confront the problems with its fire department that have plagued the town for over 30 years.

Deep River is the only small town in Ontario with an exclusively full time fire department. This is extremely expensive because the population (about 4000) is too small to justify the nine or ten such sunshine listers that are required to maintain 24/7 presence at the firehall. Even more importantly, the town has known for many years that the force is too small to be effective.

No wonder the people of Deep River voted 89 percent in a survey last year to give the Council a mandate to seek a reduction in the size of the full time force to two and to add 24 volunteers to create a service that would provide both better protection and affordable.

Why, in a democratic society, can’t the elected officials simply implement the fire protection model that is right for their community and that its residents want?

The reason is that power was taken away from Deep River’s elected officials by an unaccountable arbitrator who awarded a “no-contracting” out clause in the firefighter’s collection agreement that effectively forbids the use of volunteer firefighters in 1984.

The people of Deep River had been stuck with their bad deal for 30 years, when in 2014 the town’s inability to protect its residents was increasingly obvious, the council felt it might finally have a chance to get relief at arbitration.

The arbitrator in 2014 listened to the safety concerns and offered an option to the town to add volunteers, but only under conditions that would lock in the town’s exorbitant costs for what could be forever.

By refusing to consider the cost to taxpayers, both in 2014 and again in his 2017 decision, the arbitrator failed to comply with the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act, 1997 which required him to consider “best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers.”

By ignoring the interests of taxpayers and the clear intention of the law, unaccountable arbitrators have created a perverse employer-union environment that encourages the firefighters to take the citizens for whatever they can get; yet the firefighters are responsible for their own actions.

Shame on the firefighters’ union for fear-mongering about an unstaffed fire hall. Most fire halls in small communities are unstaffed. Most such communities have confidence in their well-trained volunteer force that’s always on-call.

Yet our full time firefighters are refusing to do what volunteers do willingly: get training and wear pagers. Why? They’d rather use these as bargaining tools to secure more money or bolster their union’s strength.

I’d much rather be protected by folks who respect the interests of the citizens they are supposed to serve.


The following letter was published in the NRT.

Why can’t the people choose their fire protection service?

The dispute between the Town of Deep River and its firefighters manifested by the firefighters’ rally on Sept 8 must seem confusing and unusual for those who haven’t followed it.

As a former Councillor and Deputy Mayor (2010-2014), please allow me to summarize.

Deep River is the only small town in Ontario with an exclusively full time fire department, a model which it inherited from the days when AECL operated the town – a model which may have been appropriate then, but isn’t today.

The full time department is extremely expensive because the population (about 4000) is too small to justify the nine or ten such sunshine listers that are required to maintain 24/7 presence at the firehall.

Even more importantly, the town has known for years that the force has been too small to perform fire suppression according to Ontario’s standards, which have been increasingly demanding over time.

No wonder the people of Deep River voted 89 percent in a survey last year to give the Council a mandate to seek a reduction in the size of the full time force to two and to add 24 volunteers to create a service that would provide both better protection and affordability.

Why, in a democratic society, can’t the elected officials simply implement the fire protection model that is right for their community and that its residents want?

The reason is that power was taken away from Deep River’s elected officials by an unaccountable arbitrator who awarded a “no-contracting” out clause in the firefighter’s collection agreement that effectively forbids the use of volunteer firefighters in 1984.

The people of Deep River had been stuck with their bad deal for 30 years, when in 2014 the town’s inability to protect its residents was increasingly obvious, the council felt it might finally have a chance to get relief at arbitration.

The arbitrator in 2014 listened to the safety concerns and offered an option to the town to add volunteers, but only under conditions that would lock in the town’s exorbitant costs for what could be forever.

By refusing to consider the cost to taxpayers, both in 2014 and again in his 2017 decision, the arbitrator failed to comply with the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act, 1997 which required him to consider “best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers.”

By ignoring the interests of taxpayers and the clear intention of the law, unaccountable arbitrators have created a perverse employer-union environment that encourages the firefighters to take the citizens for whatever they can get; yet the firefighters are responsible for their own actions.

Shame on the firefighters’ union for fear-mongering about an unstaffed fire hall. Most fire halls in small communities are unstaffed. Most such communities have confidence in their well-trained volunteer force that’s always on-call.

Yet our full time firefighters are refusing to do what volunteers do willingly: get training and wear pagers. Why? They’d rather use these as bargaining tools to secure more money or bolster their union’s strength.

I’d much rather be protected by folks who respect the interests of the citizens they are supposed to serve.

The people of Deep River are paying Cadillac prices for a clunker fire service.

I applaud the actions of the Deep River council for having the courage to confront the problems with its fire department that have plagued the town for over 30 years.