|Back to Home||Feature Article - July 19, 2012|
Fire service integration: Dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"sBy Jeff Green
There was no confirming vote at the end of a two-hour meeting between the councils of Addington Highlands and North Frontenac in Cloyne this week, but the meeting did yield a broad consensus about the future of fire and emergency services in both townships.
As much as anything, the meeting location, which was the Barrie Hall, illustrated how the two townships are joined at the hip so to speak, as the hall is located in North Frontenac, on the east side of Hwy. 41, just the width of a two-lane road from Grand General Store and North Addington Education Centre, which are located in Addington Highlands. The highway marks the boundary not only between two townships, but two counties as well. Ever since municipal amalgamation in 1998, the two townships have continued to operate a joint fire service for North Frontenac ward 1 (Barrie) and Addington Highlands ward 2 (Kaladar) in addition to stand-alone services in the rest of each of the townships.
The major item that was being considered at the joint meeting was a “Bylaw to establish and regulate the Barrie-Kaladar Fire Department”, a large, detailed document that includes a number of appendices. Among those is a core services declaration. Once both councils approve all of these documents, which is anticipated within the next two or three months, the future direction of not only the Kaladar/Barrie service, but levels of training and service throughout the two large rural townships will be fixed and defined.
Addington Highlands Fire Chief Casey Cuddy, as well as North Frontenac Fire Chief Steve Riddell, were in attendance at the meeting, as were a number of members of the Kaladar-Barrie service. As well, Dan Koroscil, Fire Protection Advisor from the Ontario Fire Marshall's Office, was on hand to provide direction and advice.
Dan Koroscil pointed out how important it is for an agreement to be reached, and soon.
“As it stands now, the Kaladar-Barrie department is operating in a legal limbo,” he said. “You really need to give your firefighters the legal authority to do what they are doing.”
An agreement between the townships setting up a joint fire board was signed into effect in 2001, but Koroscil was indicating that the 2001 agreement was insufficient.
The Joint Fire Board, which is made up of members of both councils, has been a source of frustration for both its members and the fire service it oversees, because all decisions that it makes must be ratified by both councils.
North Frontenac Deputy Mayor Fred Perry expressed frustration at how the fire board operates currently.
“I’ve been on the board for 6 years, and every time we made a decision it would have to go back and get discussed again at both councils. Then one or both councils want changes and the committee meets and agrees on something, and then it goes back to the councils again. It’s pretty frustrating,” Perry said.
Bill Cox, Addington Highlands deputy reeve and chair of the Joint Fire Board, expressed the same frustration.
“I was on the board eight years ago, and then joined again after the 2010 election, and I found we were dealing with the same issues. It goes really slow,” he said.
“Once the bylaw is ratified by both councils, it will give the fire board clear terms of reference, and the ability to operate the fire service. Budgeting will go back to the councils each year, of course, but we won’t be stuck anymore,” said Fred Perry.
The core services stipulated in the bylaw will likely be adopted by both townships for all their fire services, and Dan Koroscil indicated that the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office is recommending core service agreements for all Ontario fire services, professional and volunteer.
“What core services does for fire services is tell the firefighters, the township, and the public, what business the fire department is in. It says this is what we do, and this is what it will cost in equipment and training to maintain these kinds of services,” said Koroscil.
In order for the core services provisions to work for both townships they will have to be adopted for the entire service, not just Kaladar-Barrie, which raises concerns because not all of the six fire halls operated in the two townships are equipped in the same way and not all crews have the same training.
“There is wording that can account for that, as well as shared service agreements between your different services,” Koroscil said.
Steve Smart, a member of the Kaladar-Barrie department, took Koroscil’s point.
“The key thing for us on the department, is that we don’t want to move backwards. We don’t want to stop providing service we have trained for and provided in the past because it is no longer a core service,” he said.
Koroscil took his point, particularly as regards cold water and wilderness rescue.
“You market your townships as wilderness playgrounds; you have ATV runs on your trails. You need to provide service that backs that up,” he said.
The new bylaw will come to Addington Highlands Council either on August 7 or in early September, and could be approved by North Frontenac at their August 13 meeting.