Pay­ing Cadillac prices

The Daily Observer - - OPINION -

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.

Daniel Banks

Deep River

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