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City adding 8 career firefighters to the ranks to increase staffing at Val Therese station

Heated debate leads to Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier resigning from role as chair of emergency services committee
Greater Sudbury city council voted to add eight career firefighters at a cost of $1.07 million in order to allow Station 16 in Val Therese to be staffed with four career firefighters on each shift.

Greater Sudbury city council voted to add eight career firefighters at a cost of $1.07 million in order to allow Station 16 in Val Therese to be staffed with four career firefighters on each shift.

The decision was made after some lengthy debate, with councillors Bill Leduc, Gerry Montpellier and Michael Vagnini voting in opposition. 

With the motion being carried, the costs associated with hiring the new career firefighters means that the city is currently looking at a tax increase of 4.1 per cent.

Following the approval of the motion, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier announced that he was resigning from his position as chair of the emergency services committee.

Montpellier spoke at length Tuesday evening in opposition to adding more career firefighters to top up staffing numbers at the Val Therese station, continually making note that council had the final say in determining fire service levels.

"It was strongly promoted at council that accepting the labour interest arbitration of four (firefighters) on a truck was the only choice and set in stone," said Montpellier, referring to an arbitration ruling made last fall that ordered two additional full-time firefighters at the Val Therese station.

"It is in fact council's duty to set fire service levels and costs."

General manager of corporate services Kevin Fowke echoed Montpellier's statement.

"It certainly is a binding award upon the parties, that said there are options here that are in front of council that are within council's purview to be able to direct alternatives to that award."

Greater Sudbury Fire Services has been paying $3,532 a day in overtime since October in order to maintain a full staffing compliment 

Deputy fire chief Jesse Oshell provided a brief breakdown of the department's council-approved staffing model of 104 career firefighters that they have been budgeted for.

Those 104 firefighters are divided equally into 26 firefighters across four platoons, and each day 26 are scheduled to work in Greater Sudbury.

"Every day we as a service know that we'll have on average three or four firefighters who will be off work due to a number of reasons; vacation, sick, WSIB, and so from the arbitration award that we had presented, there are times when we do have more than our minimum CBA compliment of 22 firefighters which we're agreed upon to carry every day," said Oshell.

"Some days there will be individuals who aren't off absent and on those days we move that firefighter to Station 16 and that way that firefighter fills that compliment so there aren't just two there. Sometimes there's three and other times if we're very lucky there are four."

Ward 11 Coun.  Bill Leduc questioned whether it would be cheaper to the city to hire more volunteer firefighters in order to fill the need.

Chief Joseph Nicholls explained that it would in fact be cheaper, though training a large contingent of volunteers would present challenges.

Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre is one of the councillors responsible for Valley East, and he spoke Tuesday about what this motion means for service levels and safety in the area.

"This really affects my ward; Station 16 is in my ward as is Station 17 in Hanmer," said Lapierre. "I've been speaking with residents and discussing and explaining this report and what it means."

Lapierre explained that the input from his constituents has been that they don't favour the risk associated with moving to 100-per-cent volunteer and most wanted to keep service levels the same.

"They really have trouble understanding the award and why they can't keep the status quo," said Lapierre.

"What I'm hoping is we support bumping that up so that we can have the coverage. It will be the same service level we have now, we have career (firefighters) now, but instead of two on the truck it'll be four. The service will be the same as we've had for years."

Training for volunteers will continue for both Valley East and the city, and the addition of eight career firefighters does not mean that there will be a reduction in volunteer firefighters.

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier voted in favour of the motion, but not without some trepidation about how the costs associated with bringing in the new firefighters would be covered.

"With respect to the immediate tax implications on this, there's been a lot of discussion about who's going to pay for the service," said Cormier. "I understand that we set the tax rate at a later date, a few months from now, but what I've heard is this whole amount is being baked into the tax rate this year and being spread across the board."

Mayor Brian Bigger questioned whether it was possible for the city to defer any capital projects in a similar amount to the cost of hiring additional career firefighters in order to maintain the tax rate increase.

"In order to remove $1.075 (million) from capital, council has to identify a project to cancel or defer," said Ed Stankiewicz, director of finance. "Otherwise the $1.075 goes into the levy."

If council decides during their area rating and tax policy discussions to stay the course that they've followed in the past, the cost associated with adding full-time firefighters to Station 16 will be borne by residents of Valley East.


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