Resources on Deep River’s fire department
Summary and Disclaimer:
The most significant policy issue during my time as an elected official in Deep River, Ontario was found in the delivery of its fire services. The town has an anomalous fire department and the restructuring efforts to achieve the right delivery model for our community could have had province-wide implications. In summer 2017, the town took the unprecedented step of cutting its fire department in half due to its unreasonable costs. Though some details of this issue are unique to Deep River, the problem is a symptom of a much larger problem in which Ontario taxpayers are being burned by unreasonable costs of fire protection. At the root of the problem is a powerful labor arbitration system that does not consider the interests of taxpayers.
In June 2018, the town of Deep River reached a major agreement with the neighboring nuclear laboratory in Chalk River and a corresponding cease-fire with the fire fighter’s union. These agreements were historic in three ways: (1) The fire department would be run by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) using CNL’s fire fighters in addition to the town’s staff; (2) The town’s full-time force would remain at half of its traditional level; and (3) The town would hire volunteer fire fighters to complement these full time forces.
Deep River now has the opportunity to build these historic developments to move past the historic issues that have plagued its fire department.
The following resources on this page and relevant blog posts are as they were leading up to June 2018. They are preserved for future reference for anyone seeking to understand this issue, but may not be updated to reflect more recent developments.
Thank you for continuing to inform us of the TRUTH, with regards to our local fire dept. ... A dozen or so members of the firefighters union, must not be allowed to hold this town hostage with their outrageous demands. Please, keep up the good work, very much appreciate it. (Resident 1)
My thanks to Daniel Banks for once again writing an informed, intelligent, unbiased letter outlining the ongoing issues with the fire department. His prose is simple and clear, without ranting or overblown rhetoric or personal attacks. Thanks to Mr. Banks, we all have a better chance to understand the complicated history of the Deep River Fire Services. Keep it coming, Daniel! (Resident 2)
I look forward to all your letters to the NRT Editor in order to have a rational discourse with factual information to the issues of the day - in particular the firemen dispute. I would imagine that the Mayor is happy to have someone like you to counterbalance the yowling yobs. Keep up the good work. (Resident 3)
The Right Model for Deep River
32 volunteers + 3 full time = A safer community + 60 percent savings
“The option recommended by Dillon Consulting would reduce the fire department’s budget by a massive $709,000, down to just $495,064 – a 60 percent decrease [based on the 2011 budget] that would leave the fire service accounting for just six percent of total municipal operating expenditures. That would also reduce the town’s cost per household for fire protection from $641.52 down to $248.50.” – North Renfrew Times, August 6, 2014. To put the numbers in context, $700,000 is the amount we would save if we had to shutdown the library, the pool and the arena. The fire department is our most expensive service. Its actual operating expenditures averaged $1,400,000 from 2011 to 2013.
- NRT article summarizing the Dillon Report
- Dillon Report: Executive Summary
- Dillon Report: key section on the fire suppression model pages 70-96 (electronic pages 82-108 in the full pdf file; cost estimates, p87). Much of the rest of the report deals with other aspects of the department important to fire safety: administration, fire prevention and public education, training, the fire station and equipment, and communication technology.
- Dillon Report: Fire Risk Assessment, Appendix I
- Dillon Report: Economic Considerations, Appendix J
- Full Dilllon Report (Large file warning: 28Mb)
Why can’t we use volunteers?
“No contracting out” language prohibits volunteers – The collective agreement with the Deep River firefighters contains a “no contracting out” clause that originated from a 1984 arbitration: “Except to the extent and to the degree agreed upon by the parties, no work customarily performed by an employee covered by this agreement shall be performed by another employee of the corporation or by a person who is not an employee of the corporation.” In other words, the union can veto the use of volunteers. Contrary to democratic principles, elected representatives are not empowered to make this critical decision about how their fire services are delivered. We’re the only town in Ontario with this limitation. Ontario has 460 fire departments, and only 31 of them are entirely full time. Deep River is by far the smallest. Even some large cities like Ottawa and Hamilton use volunteers to supplement their full time force.
Negotiation with union over volunteers has failed – The firefighters’ union “has insisted on proposals that would result in a significant overall increase in the cost of fire services in Deep River. These proposals create further barriers to the use of part-time/on-call firefighters [i.e. volunteers] and effectively negate the value of their implementation. We remain hopeful [they] will modify their position for the betterment of our community.” Town of Deep River, July 30, 2014. Read the full statement. During negotiation, the town offered to guarantee the positions of all firefighters in exchange for the needed cooperation on volunteers. The union’s position was that a minimum staffing clause was needed to ensure the town would have to fill any vacancies with more full time firefighters. [These facts were revealed at the resulting arbitration hearing in October 2014 (my notes)]
Arbitration failed the taxpayers in 2014 – Read the 2014 Arbitrator’s Decision here. Arbitrator Kaplan ruled, “Maintain the current no contracting out clause, but subject to the right of the employer to establish a composite force, conditional on maintaining the existing complement of nine (9) firefighters that may, by attrition, be reduced to eight (8) firefighters (with any vacancies to be filled within 60 days). If a composite force is established, there must be a captain (or acting captain receiving acting pay) on duty on all shifts.” (emphasis added). As a result, if the town now brings in volunteers, not only will costs be increased, but they will be locked into this exorbitant cost model perpetually, giving the union what it wants. My comments on the decision.
Deep River residents vote in favor of the Dillon report model
The town sought the input of residents in a referendum-like survey in 2016. Deep River voted 89 percent 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.
- Background statement provided to residents to inform the vote
- Official statement releasing survey results (June 2016)
Arbitration failed the taxpayers again in 2017
Despite the clear support residents, negotiations with the union failed again and the town took the matter to arbitration. In Arbitrator Kaplan’s second decision (June 2017), he simply ignored the will of the people and declined to make any changes to his 2014 ruling with respect to the issue of volunteers. My comments on the decision.
Deep River halves fire department
Press release re: Changes in Fire Protection Model (includes Fire Chief Rob Shaw’s July 12, 2017 report)
“The DRFFA President has made it clear they are not obligated to carry pagers as they are not paid to and advised the Chief at least one firefighter does not take the pager home and others take them home but do not take them with them or monitor the pagers as they do not want to be bothered. On average over the past several years a department wide page has resulted in less than five members of the department attending the scene including the two on duty.” – Fire Chief Rob Shaw
“The Deep River firefighters have refused to attend scheduled training to improve qualifications and competencies at the Ontario Fire College.” – Council resolution
The Fire chief’s report reveals that the numbers have been reduced in half due to attrition (medical leaves, expiring contracts not renewed, retirements).
All remaining firefighters have been moved to a single shift: 8:00am-6:30pm, Monday to Friday.
Calls to the Fire Department
Most calls to the department come in during the firefighter’s shift. Other times, the police evaluate the calls and page the firefighters if needed. For serious fires, our mutual agreement with Laurentian Hills will be invoked.
Deep River Fire Department Call Data 2011-2017 (MS Excel format)
In April 2017, 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.
Fire Underwriters Survey Ratings for Deep River (2014 data)
Historic Fire Suppression Model Inadequate
Ontario Fire Marshall reports highlight the deficiency in the fire suppression model
- OFM Review 2011 – “The OFM evaluation finds that the current fire suppression capability does not meet the needs and circumstances of the municipality. The fire department currently does not have the internal resources to effectively, efficiently, and safely, conduct fire suppression operations at single family dwellings or at any higher risk occupancy” (page 10).
- OFM Review 2006 – The inability to meet standard response times with sufficient fire fighters is discussed on pages 36-37, 40-42. This report suggested an automatic aid agreement with Laurentian Hills was needed to make up for the low numbers of firefighters in Deep River. However, attempts to establish such an agreement ran afoul of the “no contracting out” language in the collective agreement.
Fire Department Bylaw
Does the town’s bylaw require it to maintain a certain number of firefighters, as was reported by the CBC? Not at all. Read bylaw 27-2014 Establish and Regulate a Fire Department for yourself to check it out.
- Deep River at risk of losing fire help from neighbouring communities – Nov 12, 2017
- Deep River, Ont., mayor cites price tag as fire service gutted – Sept 22, 2017
- Deep River’s fire staff halved as costs mount – Sept 20, 2017
Why is arbitration failing?
Binding arbitration is the process designated by provincial law to settle disputes regarding collective agreements for police and firefighters. For decades, arbitrators in Ontario have favored union interests over taxpayers’ interests. In addition to awarding overly generous wage and benefit increases, arbitrators have limited the ability of municipal Councils to determine the appropriate numbers of firefighters for their communities. The worst example of this is right here in Deep River. This video and more information on how arbitration needs to be made efficient, transparent and accountable is available from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
More resources on how and why arbitration is failing Ontario taxpayers:
- My commentary on how the problems in Deep River are symptoms of an Ontario-wide problem
- ESSC Ability to Pay Position Paper – This paper documents how emergency services wage and benefits awards have exceeded other awards, the rate of inflation and the cost of living; how these increasing wages and benefits are not sustainable; how arbitrators and arbitration boards ignore the ability of the municipality to pay in light of its economic situation and the impact on taxpayers who, in essence, are the municipality; and recommends criteria for arbitrators and arbitration boards to consider.
- Two provocative commentaries by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail about the escalating costs of firefighters, despite decreases in fires:
Firefighters’ union fights firefighters who volunteer: The “doublehatter” issue
The firefighters’ union in Ontario is taking legal action to prevent their members from volunteering as firefighters in the towns where they live. If the union is successful, it will negatively affect Deep River and may other small towns that rely on volunteers. CNL’s professional firefighters would be unable to volunteer in the communities around.
AMO reported in August: “Five new firefighters charged by their union for volunteering in their hometown. Each has been convicted by an IAFF jury, fined and is awaiting an IAFF appeal process before they can go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.”
See my post on this topic for more information: