A community group in Greater Sudbury has been fighting for improved fire services for months. Now, members will have the face-to-face meeting they’ve been wanting.
The Beaver Lake Fire Services Committee says their volunteer-only station has three members, and nearby fire services are inadequate.
To solve this, the group is asking the city to help make it easier for locals to become volunteer fire fighters.
“None of this is personal,” says Jules Lalonde, a member of the committee.
“This is about making sure that we have basic human rights and civic services available to our region, and I don’t think that’s unfair.”
Make qualifications conditional, asks group
The Beaver Lake fire station was slated to close in the city’s fire optimization plan. Lalonde says once this was known, he and several other locals applied to be volunteer fire fighters to prove the community needed the nearby station.
He says, however, that many people were turned away because they didn’t have time to get up-to-date CPR and first aid training.
The solution to this, Lalonde says, is to hire people on a conditional basis. That way, the station would have a safe number of fire fighters to serve as soon as possible, on the condition that they get re-certified within a certain amount of time.
“In an under-serviced area that requires fire service today, it’s unreasonable to set these types of hurtles,” Lalonde says.
“It’s not unreasonable to expect that we can make some small changes to HR policies to make sure we’re able to have a properly protected area.”
Meeting agreed to, but not set
The committee has tried to communicate with city officials through written letters and online, but are finally getting a face-to-face meeting with CAO Ed Archer and Trevor Bain, the city’s chief of fire and paramedic services, and the general manager of community safety.
“Real progress takes place when people work out problems directly,” Lalonde says.
“We are not offering this meeting to air our grevances. We’re asking to meet to find a solution.”
Group is ‘passionate’ about fire services
Bain says he’s looking forward to an in-person meeting with the group.
“They rightly are passionate about emergency services in their area and as are we,” says Bain.
“Let’s have a discussion and get on some common ground.”
The topic of volunteer fire fighters has been a point of tension since the fire optimization plan was made public. Bain says it’s possible that the city could make exceptions for this group, but it would be difficult since volunteer fire fighters are unionized.
“That creates some additional, rigid rules,” he says.
Volunteers need to be ready to commit
Another issue with making it easier for people to become volunteers, Bain says, is that the city has to ensure there’s a certain level of committment.
“Being a volunteer in this day and age probably takes more dedication now than it ever has with heightened expectations with skill and complicance, and with the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” he says.
“It’s not volunteering to participate in a service club, which is a commendable thing to do. But in this particular situation, you become an employee of a municipal government and there are expectations. This not only protects the individual, but protects the employer.”
There’s no set date for the meeting, but Bain says he and other city officials are trying to find one that works for all parties.