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Staff respond to rumours surrounding fire plan

With so much talk in the city, councillors try to clear the air
Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier speaks at a special city council meeting March 21 where the fire optimization plan was discussed. Photo by Callam Rodya.

Since details of the proposed fire optimization plan became public last month, social media and coffee shops have been abuzz with rumours about the proposal.
So on Tuesday, with city councillors able to ask staff about the plan for the first time in an open forum, some took the opportunity to ask what constituents have been asking them.

Here's a rundown of some of the questions, and the response from Fire Chief Trevor Bain.

– Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier wanted to know why the proposal went public when many details are missing and the final report isn't ready.
“Why was this road show even put out there when we didn't know the implications?” Montpellier asked. “If there's so much more information to come, why didn't we wait?”
“Why did we go on a road show?” Bain replied. “This is a complicated topic and part of our approach was public engagement. That's what we chose to do.”

–Montpellier also asked about radios in a volunteer station in his ward not working.
“There's no delicate way of saying this – 30 reports of radios not working right,” he said. “That puts a lot of people at risk. Why was that not addressed?”
“I am certainly aware there were numerous challenges two years ago,” Bain replied, adding that's when there was a changeover to a new radio system. 
“For the most part, we've ironed them out,” he said, adding that problems persist with the pager system.

– Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan wanted to know why details of plan were released when both career and volunteer firefighters are in contract talks.
“We can't undo what's happened, but it was a mistake,” Kirwan said.
Bain replied that he was constrained in what he could say, because of the need for privacy around what's said in bargaining.
“I would suggest if we're going to continue these conversations, we not do it in open council,” he replied.
Councillors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday following the public session.

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini wanted to know why career stations are dispatched first, then volunteers, with the implication that volunteers show up later because they are dispatched later.
Bain said that was a “common misconception.” In fact, he said, there's a separate dispatch system for volunteers. The career dispatch is faster because there's no need to page anyone individually, since they work out of the fire stations.

– Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said her residents have told her they fear the plan will close fire stations, lowering property values and increasing insurance costs.
Bain said the opposite was true, that the lack of standard response times puts the city in a position of liability during a fire inquest.
“In my estimation, (establishing benchmarks) is the right thing to do.”

– Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said he's heard rumours the city doesn't really try that hard to recruit volunteers, in particular that recruitment drives aren't properly advertised or promoted.
Bain replied that the most recent drive was advertised across traditional and social media and that the city is committed to its volunteer force.
“I can never see a day that we would not have volunteer firefighters,” he said. “We are not looking not to hire people.”
But volunteers must now be trained as well as career firefighters under provincial regulations, which requires a much bigger time commitment, as well as tighter physical and other requirements. “We are not unique in this community” in facing challenges in recruiting, he said, adding that the 18 per cent attrition rate in Sudbury is at the provincial average. 
Maybe all the attention the fire plan has received will lead to more applications, he said.
“This has certainly got the community's attention.”
“What makes a successful volunteer candidate?” Signoretti asked.
Bain said they must live near the station, have Grade 12, a driver's license, no criminal record, be physically fit and pass an aptitude test.
“It is difficult sometimes,” he said. “There are a lot of variables.”

–Vagnini asked why Espanola doesn't have problems attracting volunteers, and it only has 5,000 residents.
Bain said volunteers in Espanola only have to cover an area of 20 kilometres.
“And they have one station for the entire area,” whereas in Sudbury, some communities have more than one station to staff.

–Vagnini also asked about a search and rescue boat that was removed from the station in his ward.
“What happened to the boat in Whitefish?”
Bain said it wasn't the right type of boat for water rescue, and rescue staff were trained on another type of vessel.
“We're not in the habit of using the type of boat that was in use at the Whitefish station,” he said. “We would be putting the corporation in the position of liability if we used that boat.”

Vagnini said the boat was sold at auction last year.
“Why was it auctioned before we finished the optimization?” he said.
“I think I explained that,” Bain responded. “It's not a boat that we would use. It's not a boat that I would support being used.”

Councillors are scheduled to make some decisions on the plan at their meeting April 26.