The North Bay Fire Department’s “sudden” decision to reduce staffing levels during summer months will hamper the department’s response capabilities and result in unnecessary health and safety risks to personnel and the public, says Robb Roy, president of the North Bay Professional Fire Fighters Association.
City council approved the reduction during an in-camera meeting Monday night, resulting in the minimum on-duty staffing levels going down to 15 from 16, during June, July and August.
Fewer fire fighters
While the cut may not seem significant, Roy said, it could mean that one fire truck may be unable to respond, or that a rescue vehicle may only respond with a driver only.
“And that translates into fewer fire fighters on the scene of a fire, medical call or other emergency,” Roy said.
“In my view this poses an unnecessary risk to our fire fighters and an unacceptable potential risk to the citizens of North Bay, who expect a continued level of service to keep themselves, their families and their property safe during the summer.”
On the way up
North Bay Fire Chief Ted McCullough said the move was made to reduce overtime costs, which came in at $247,000 last year instead of the budgeted-for $130,000.
McCulloch added that safety wasn’t being compromised through the reduction and that all vehicles will continue to respond to calls.
The chief also said he'd like to maintain the 16 on-duty staffing levels at all times, but can't because of the collective agreement with the association.
Roy said the reduction comes at a time when call volumes are on the way up, as well as other emergency situations fire fighters respond to.
“We also to respond to out of town calls for things like extrications, and we’ve gone as far south as South River and as far north as Temagami,” Roy said.
Summer isn’t the period of time to be reducing minimum on-duty staffing levels, Roy said.
“With heavy tourism and recreational traffic, and special events such as the Heritage Festival, North Bay’s population swells during these months,” Roy said.
City council sets fire protection levels for North Bay, and Roy said fire fighters weren’t consulted in advance about the staffing reductions.
“We’re not sure if the motive is financial or some other reason, but the risks to public and fire fighter safety,” Roy said, “outweigh any savings the city might gain from this move.”
North Bay fire fighters are still without a contract for 2002-2003, and a provincial arbitrator has been called in to set an award, which is expected some time this month.