A municipal report is currently being drafted to help city council map out the future of the city’s emergency services system, which might include the potential consolidation of certain services.
After catching wind of some of the report’s contents, Beaver Lake Fire and Services Committee chair Ralph Prentice expressed concern in recent correspondence with city council.
Given his organization’s work to “enhance the western entrance to Greater Sudbury,” which includes welcoming tourists, access to emergency services and showcasing the area’s history, he wrote that “much, if not all” of what they’ve been working toward might now be at risk.
That is, he clarified, “if the information now being revealed is true.”
The information in question includes a single page of a report with a map proposing the consolidation of certain emergency services:
- Consolidate Beaver Lake at Whitefish
- Consolidate Vermilion Lake at Dowling
- Consolidate Azilda at Chelmsford
- Consolidate LIvely, Waters and Copper Cliff at Anderson Drive
- Consolidate Hanmer and Val Caron at Val Therese
- Consolidate Skead, Garson and Falconbridge at Ideal Site
- Relocate Minnow Lake
- Consolidate Coniston and Wahnapitae at Ideal Site
“This draft consultant report does not represent final direction or staff recommendations,” a city spokesperson clarified in emailed correspondence with Sudbury.com.
“It contains information on station locations along with opportunities for consolidation, but does not include other important analytical and financial considerations that continue to be developed by city staff for council’s consideration.”
The city’s work on a station location report is focused on “much-needed asset renewal work,” in which they do not intend to make any adjustments to response times.
“We are also not eliminating any volunteer or full-time firefighter positions,” they added. “In fact, we have sought new and innovative ways to recruit new volunteers and will continue to do so.”
The report is anticipated to be presented to city council by the end of the year, which means it will likely go to whatever group is elected to council chambers on Oct. 24. Additional reporting will take place in 2023, and the spokesperson noted everything will be done publicly and made available through the regular city council agenda process wherein everything is posted online.
In a media release from Our Towns Our City Institute, a group of citizens critical of city hall whose material is written by Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini advisor Tom Price, the city is alleged to have been maintaining “secrecy” in their reporting. The media release cites the city’s “refusal to air” the emergency services stations report, which has yet to be written, as “an arrogant, blatant slap in the face to every resident in the city.”
Sudbury.com reached out to Vagnini for comment, as his ward includes Beaver Lake, but he did not respond.
He did, however, weigh in on a written question-and-answer Our Towns Our City Institute included in their media release.
“I was told by Fire Services the Beaver Lake station would remain,” he said in the release.
“Frankly, I am totally shocked that they would tell me one thing and do something different behind my back when I have been charged and financially penalized for accusations that I stated I didn’t believe staff.”
The penalization cited is likely reference to sanctions against him city council voted in favour of last month in response to his Code of Conduct breaches, which included an allegation he spread various points of misinformation about the city’s homeless community.
Contrary to Vagnini’s remark about city staff doing something behind his back, city council will decide how to proceed with whatever recommendations staff come up with in their final report.
“This has been an issue since before I was elected in 2014,” Vagnini said in the release. “I am very disappointed that this information is not coming out prior to the election to allow both incumbents and new candidates to inform or debate their views on the matter with voters. I will be asking Council to direct staff to place the report on the city website for public access.”
As a city spokesperson indicated, reports of this nature are routinely posted on the city’s website for public access through the agenda process as they come up for debate in council chambers.
Vagnini’s political opponent in Ward 2, Eric Benoit, said that while he supports the Beaver Lake fire hall, there isn’t much to say about the situation until the full municipal report is released.
“They're leaking parts of a report that are part of a draft report,” he said. “It doesn’t have any context as to what that map is.”
As for the leaked map page, Benoit said he sees a lot of potential problems with it at face value, but that without the missing context it’s difficult to conclude much of anything about it.
“Without any information, we don’t know what this page actually means,” he said. “It was part of a story that was leaked to get people angry.”
Greater Sudbury’s fire hall modernization has been a long-discussed issue stemming from the amalgamation of several municipalities to form the City of Greater Sudbury in 2001, at which time the converging municipalities' existing infrastructure was absorbed by the city.
The issue caused quite a stir in 2017, when an audit found that fire stations in the city, including Beaver Lake, required significant upgrades and that some could be closed or relocated.
Beaver Lake has long suffered from a low volunteer rate, and only had four volunteers by the end of last year, which was the lowest among the city’s 18 volunteer fire halls in operation.
The national Fire Underwriters Survey has determined volunteer fire halls should have a minimum of 15 members, at which point they’re considered protected and covered by fire underwriters.
The municipal report city council is currently waiting for was requested during the Jan. 19, 2021, finance and administration committee meeting.
The company is billed as “an international company that specializes in helping emergency services to optimize the number of fire and paramedic stations and their location in order to respond in the most effective and efficient way.”
Past consulting work by the company has included the Region of York, City of Guelph, Simcoe County and the District Municipality of Muskoka.
“ORH Ltd. utilizes modelling techniques to analyze the interactions between travel times (using past performance data) and current road networks, population levels, and demographics,” according to the report.
The company will work toward developing “a predictive model incorporating municipal planning information such as projected growth, types of future development and community risk assessments, to inform the potential future volumes, locations, and types of emergency calls.”
The report ORH Ltd. has been asked to produce is expected “to determine the optimal number, distribution and size of fire and paramedic stations.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.