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Lack of public consultation ‘irresponsible’: Labbée

Wide-sweeping changes to the city’s network of emergency services infrastructure, including several fire hall consolidations, were proposed in a report Greater Sudbury will now be seeking public consultation on thanks to a motion by Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée
Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée is seen during the Dec. 13 city council meeting, at which she introduced a successful motion to defer a decision on an emergency services infrastructure report so a public consultation process can take place first.

The city’s lack of public consultation in drafting a report proposing sweeping changes to its network of emergency services infrastructure, including consolidations, was “irresponsible.” 

So described Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

She made the comment while introducing a successful motion to defer a decision on the controversial report until such time as the public has been consulted.

The changes proposed in the long-awaited report on emergency services infrastructure aren’t just about the bottom line, she said, but the entire community, including first responders.

“That concerns me, when we’re not even consulting our front-line workers,” Labbée said, urging her colleagues to support deferring a decision until “some proper public consultation has taken place.”

Volunteer firefighters should be an important part of this consultation process, she said, adding the proposed changes might result in volunteers dropping off due to the necessity for some to travel greater distances to reach fire halls in the event some are closed.

A petition to keep the Skead fire station open has been started at the Skead Seniors Centre, and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini said similar petitions are going around in his ward as well.

With an 11-2 vote favouring Labbée’s motion, city staff have been charged with creating an engagement plan report in time for city city council consideration at their Jan. 24 meeting.

With all members of city council present for Tuesday’s (Vagnini left mid-meeting after the matter was dealt with), only Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre and Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh opposed it. They both argued modernizing the city’s emergency services infrastructure has been on the agenda for several years and that action is finally needed.

Drawing from his own experience as a paramedic, Lapierre said the infrastructure no longer meets the city’s needs. 

The buildings “are old, they no longer meet the standard that is required,” he said. “Some of our ambulances have trouble backing in because it’s so freaking tight.”

The long-awaited report in front of city council during Tuesday’s meeting draws from information compiled by U.K-based Operational Research in Health Ltd., and has been responded to via a report by city Fire and Paramedic Services Chief Joseph Nicholls.

Although Nicholls supports the majority of recommendations made by Operational Research in Health Ltd., he disagrees with the notion of consolidating the Azilda and Chelmsford stations.

“The building conditions of Azilda and Chelmsford stations are satisfactory; consolidating them would increase response times in Azilda,” according to Nicholls’ report. 

The proposed change would have added 3:12 to the 90th percentile response time in Azilda (the time in which 90 per cent of responses are made). The Chelmsford response time was projected to have been reduced by 54 seconds.

Aside from that, Nicholls’ report notes the city supports various other ORH recommendations, which include:

  • Capreol, Levack, Dowling, Whitefish and Chelmsford should remain at their current sites.
  • Consolidate Skead and Falconbridge into a new ideal site for Garson
  • Consolidate Val Caron and Hanmer at current site in Val Thérèse
  • Consolidate Vermilion Lake into Dowling
  • Consolidate Beaver Lake into Whitefish
  • Consolidate Wahnapitae and Coniston at a new ideal site
  • Consolidate Waters, Lively and Copper Cliff at Anderson Drive
  • Relocate the Minnow Lake station two kilometres north.
  • Consolidate paramedics with fire services in Capreol

The report also urges the relocation of the Van Horne Street station 500 metres north, but with no property available the city has determined this is not a variable option. The ideal location at Paris and Lloyd would shave 22 seconds in average response times from the 90th percentile. 

By this metric, relocating the Minnow Lake station two kilometres north would cut 20 seconds.

These recommendations aim to mitigate “the risk associated with continuing to operate existing stations beyond their expected useful life,” according to Nicholls’ report.

The life cycle for stations is 50 years, and the average age of the city’s 24 locations is 48 years. If the ORH report’s recommendations were fully implemented, the city’s overall 90th percentile response time would reduce by 10 seconds.

The city’s limited number of volunteer firefighters is also an issue, with some fire halls reporting few volunteer firefighters available to respond to calls. In both Beaver Lake and Skead, an average of only one volunteer firefighter responds to calls. In many cases, Deputy Chief Jesse Oshell said more than one fire hall responds to calls in order to get enough firefighters on site.

Sustaining the city’s 24 fire and paramedic stations “is neither practical nor required,” according to Nicholls, and the changes proposed would not result in any positions being eliminated. 

Last month, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier made an unsuccessful plea to have the ORH report released immediately. At the time, the city’s response and their accompanying motion recommendations hadn’t been written yet.

Montpellier’s unsuccessful motion came after a page of the ORH report was publicly leaked earlier this year.

At the time, Vagnini called the long wait for the report’s release “an arrogant, blatant slap in the face to every resident in the city.”

Criticism regarding the report’s delayed release continued during Tuesday’s meeting, at which Vagnini sussed out from Nicholls that the city received the ORH report in February.

“The decision was made to hold onto the report,” Nicholls said, adding there were negotiations taking place at time and that the report was “not conducive to that process.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the people behind the report at UK-based ORH were criticized by Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti for never setting foot in Greater Sudbury. Their report relied on GPS data from emergency vehicles and other information from the city.

“We go through a very deep analysis to understand what’s going on, what’s the demand on services, what are you responding to and how are you doing it,” ORH managing director Chris Polden told city council.

An in-person perspective, Signoretti said, “should have been part of that analysis.”

No decisions related to the future of emergency services infrastructure were made during Tuesday’s meeting. The matter will next come up in council chambers on Jan. 24, when city staff will present a report outlining potential public engagement plans.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for


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Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for
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