Paying Cadillac prices
RE: Taking the fight to the streets, Daily
Observer (Sept 9, 2017) The people of Deep River are paying Cadillac prices for a clunker fire service. As a former deputy mayor of Deep River, I applaud the actions of the Deep River council for having the courage to confront the problems with its fire department that have plagued the town for more than 30 years.
Deep River is the only small town in Ontario with an exclusively full-time fire department. This is extremely expensive because the population (about 4,000) is too small to justify the nine or 10 such sunshine listers that are required to maintain a 24-hour a day, sevenday-a-week presence at the fire hall. Even more importantly, the town has known for many years that the force is too small to be effective.
No wonder the people of Deep River voted 89 per cent in a survey last year to give the council a mandate to seek a reduction in the size of the full-time force to two and to add 24 volunteers to create a service that would provide both better protection and affordable.
Why, in a democratic society, can’t the elected officials simply implement the fire protection model that is right for the community and that the residents want?
The reason is that power was taken away from Deep River’s elected officials by an unaccountable arbitrator in 1984 who awarded a “no-contracting ” out clause in the firefighter’s collection agreement that effectively forbids the use of volunteer firefighters.
The people of Deep River had been stuck with their bad deal for 30 years, when in 2014 the town’s inability to protect its residents was increasingly obvious, the council felt it might finally have a chance to get relief at arbitration.
The arbitrator in 2014 listened to the safety concerns and offered an option to the town to add volunteers, but only under conditions that would lock in the town’s exorbitant costs for what could be forever.
By refusing to consider the cost to taxpayers, both in 2014 and again in his 2017 decision, the arbitrator failed to comply with the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act, 1997 which required him to consider “best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers.”
By ignoring the interests of taxpayers and the clear intention of the law, unaccountable arbitrators have created a perverse employerunion environment that encourages the firefighters to take the citizens for whatever they can get; yet the firefighters are responsible for their own actions.
Shame on the firefighters’ union for fearmongering about an unstaffed fire hall. Most fire halls in small communities are unstaffed. Most such communities have confidence in the well-trained volunteer force that’s always on call.
Yet our full-time firefighters are refusing to do what volunteers do willingly: get training and wear pagers. Why? They’d rather use these as bargaining tools to secure more money or bolster their union’s strength.
I’d much rather be protected by folks who respect the interests of the citizens they are supposed to serve.