Although Sundridge and Township of Strong share a joint fire service, Sundridge will go at it alone to pay for a fire prevention officer intern.
“We ran into a wall,” said Sundridge Mayor Lyle Hall on trying to convince Strong to share the cost of an intern.
Sundridge's total share for the position is $16,428 thanks to a Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation grant, which will cover about two-thirds of the intern's salary of $51,428 for one year.
Sundridge council was hoping it and Strong would split the municipal share but that's not going to happen.
The debate for a fire prevention officer has been a council agenda item several times in the past in both communities, as well as being debated at the joint fire board meetings on a number of occasions.
However, each time staff was told it was cost-prohibitive to fund the position and the need for such an officer was not needed because the “minimum fire prevention service level was being attained.”
But Fire Chief Andrew Torrance and Sundridge clerk administrator Nancy Austin re-introduced the issue at the Sundridge Strong Fire Department board of management in September, explaining in a report that the NOHFC was willing to cover the lion's share of an intern's salary for one year.
While Sundridge was on board with applying for the provincial grant, Strong was not.
In a last-ditch effort, the information detailing how the NOHFC grant made it cheaper to hire an intern for one year was presented to Strong town council at the Jan. 11 meeting.
Council simply received the report without voting to share the municipal portion with Sundridge.
When discussing the issue with Sundridge council Jan. 12, Hall indicated that although the fire prevention board was in favour of the proposal, when it came to getting support from Strong, “we have not been successful in selling that to our partner.”
Hall told council the position of the fire prevention officer intern is important for several reasons.
As the only paid individual with the volunteer fire department, Hall said Fire Chief Torrance is on call 24-7 and he needed help for a situation that's causing hardship.
Hall said Torrance needed a backup, and having an intern would reduce the fire chief's overtime.
Additionally, the intern would provide support coverage whenever Torrance is away because of training, illness or holidays.
The intern would also promote fire prevention and education in both communities.
“We're not going to be able to get (the intern) any cheaper thanks to the grant,” Hall said.
“My suggestion is we pay for (the $16,428) 100 per cent.”
At the suggestion of Coun. Steve Hicks, the fire chief should document everything the intern does so the new council coming in after this fall's municipal elections has a good idea of how both communities have benefited from the intern's work.
Deputy Mayor Shawn Jackson agreed, saying detailing the intern's work “would give a lot of information and hopefully show the way forward.”
Hall also agreed and added after a year Strong would see the value in having an extra staff person at the fire hall.
“It shows we provide a service that is welcome and quite valuable to both our communities,” Hall said.
Hicks followed up the mayor's comments by adding “it shows we care about the safety and property of our constituents as well as the constituents of our neighbouring community.”
Both Hicks and Hall pointed out the area has seen several fire deaths recently and through education, a fire prevention officer could help avoid future tragedies. Hicks said then the “fire department becomes a safety net rather than a reactionary unit.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.