While Deep River’s fire department is inadequate, the idea that we are much worse off after cutting the department in half, and that our home insurance is going to go through the roof, is simply a myth.
I submitted the following comments to the North Renfrew Times. The resources I referred to are here:
- Fire Underwriters Survey Ratings for Deep River (2014 data)
- Deep River Fire Department Call Data 2011-2017 (MS Excel format)
- The full Dillion report (28 Mb)
- Dillon Report: key section on the fire suppression model (contains per firefighter cost estimates, p87)
Thank you to Ms. Hughes for having courage to raise her concerns about the fire department situation, as I know others have similar concerns. Like Ms. Hughes, I discovered the serious problems with our fire protection model shortly after moving here, for me nearly 10 years ago, and I’ve been closely monitoring the issue ever since. In fact, wanting to solve such problems was a major reason I spent four years on the town council.
The financial concern is easy to answer. First, the town has eliminated 5 positions through attrition, which cost at least $125,000 each year [see Dillon report], or an amount equivalent to the cost to demolish and rebuild three or more houses each year. Since this is far more than the rate of serious fires, the tax room saved has to be greater than any additional cost to insure our homes.
Second, insurance providers have known about the inadequacy of Deep River’s fire department for decades. In April, former Fire Chief Rob Shaw published the results of the Fire Underwriters Survey as it was before the recent changes to the department. These insurers rated Deep River’s protection capabilities poorly. Protection for single-family homes were rated in categories that are equivalent at best, to having a volunteer force, and at worst, to having a volunteer force with serious deficiencies. For larger buildings, protection is rated 8 out of 10, where 1 is the best, 10 is the worst. The idea that we are saving on insurance by having full-time fire fighters is simply a myth.
The ratings would undoubtedly be worse, if we didn’t have a mutual aid agreement with Laurentian Hills’ large, well-trained volunteer force, which includes firefighters who live or work in Deep River, ready to respond.
The reality is that our safety didn’t change much when the town abandoned the illusion of safety in the old model of having two staff at the fire hall 24/7. My analysis of the town’s data on calls to the fire department shows that 60 percent of calls are during the new Monday-Friday 8am-6:30pm shift. If having the police respond first to calls during off-hours represents a significant compromise, which is arguable, it is offset by having a better first response in most cases (four firefighters are available instead of two). For serious fires, our mutual aid agreement will be invoked, just as in the past.
No one would say the current situation is ideal, but sometimes problems have to get worse before they get better. Our present town council is composed of concerned citizens who are taking bold steps to solve a 30-year old problem. The council’s actions have brought community attention like never before – attention that is essential to gaining public support for the changes that are needed.
We could all agree that a made-in-Deep-River solution via reasonable negotiations between the town and the union would be best. But we aren’t dealing with just our own firefighters; we are dealing with the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, which is undoubtedly concerned about how concessions in Deep River could affect trend-based bargaining throughout the province. We are dealing with a provincial arbitration system that has clearly incentivized firefighters’ unions to demand and to expect gains, in every round of bargaining, that are much more generous than what other public-sector employees get.
If bargaining with the union continues to fail, the council will have little choice but to use one of the few options left: strike a deal with one of the two neighboring fire departments (Laurentian Hills or Canadian Nuclear Laboratories) to merge the departments, or shut it down in favor of creating a new, community-operated department.
With or without the cooperation of the union, I believe we will achieve the fire protection model that is right for our community and that its citizens want: one that improves safety and cost-effectiveness together.
All documents referred to in this letter will be available on my website: danielbanks.ca.
Former Deputy Mayor of Deep River