Sudbury's Volunteer Firefighters Walk Away from Contract Talks
Cite great concern over the proposed fire and paramedic services optimization plan
The City of Greater Sudbury’s volunteer firefighters have walked away from negotiations with the city.
The volunteers, represented by CLAC Local 920, issued a letter to Chief Bain on February 24 that outlined their reasons for withdrawing from the talks. They cite grave concerns with the proposed fire and paramedic services optimization plan, which is due to be presented to city council on March 22, 2017.
The plan has not yet been made public, but Chief Bain has presented certain elements of it to the volunteer firefighters and paramedics.
“Due to the drastic changes proposed, it is impossible to continue to deliberate with the city until the future of the department is made more certain,” says Gord O’Coin, CLAC Local 920 representative.
The public will have the chance to learn more about the plan at five public information sessions, beginning on February 27.
According to the volunteers who have seen parts of the proposal, it calls for;
- reducing the number of volunteer firefighters,
- closing nine volunteer stations, and
- hiring 58 additional full time firefighters, who will staff some fire stations in rural areas presently served by volunteers.
The city states that the proposed changes will ensure adequate emergency response. However, CLAC Local 920 is of the firm opinion that the city has misdiagnosed the cause and solution to areas of concern within the current system, and that the proposed changes are not sustainable.
Local 920 has reported that the number of volunteers serving Sudbury has been in decline in recent years. Although the city continues to tell the public that there are 350 volunteers, CLAC has shown that the number is actually only 265.
CLAC Local 920 has made continuous appeals to the city to increase recruitment efforts and properly staff volunteer stations. But the city continues to limit its recruit classes to one of 20 individuals per year.
“The staffing proposal defies logic,” says Gord. “It represents a departure from every other municipality in the province that benefits from the service of volunteers.”
According to data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, 417 of Ontario’s 449 fire departments rely on volunteer firefighters. Only 32 departments are exclusively staffed by full time firefighters.
“Volunteers provide comparable service at a much lower cost to taxpayers” says Gord. “A typical volunteer trains every month and must meet exacting fitness, training, and performance criteria established by the city.”
“Full time responders are appropriate when population density and emergency call volume exceed 300 calls per year,” says Gord. “However, most stations in Sudbury experience 30 to 100 calls per year.
The cost of hiring full time service will be a challenge to residents, who already pay significant taxes.
A volunteer earns an average annual honourarium of approximately $3,200, which means that staffing a volunteer station with 25 volunteer responders costs less than the salary of one full time firefighter.
The volunteer firefighters of Sudbury urge the public to attend one of the upcoming information sessions to learn more and to make their voices heard.
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Kinsmen Hall, 15 Kin Dr., Lively (inside the library)
Colonial Inn, 28 Cedar St., Coniston
Dowling Leisure Centre, 79 Main St. West, Dowling
Centennial Community Centre/Arena, 4333 Centennial Dr., Hanmer
Falconbridge Community Centre, 63 Edison Rd., Falconridge