Councillor’s claim of heavy-handed union ‘not true’: OPFFA

Fire Chief Richard McCullough makes his presentation to the budget committee Jan. 30, 2015 while members of the fire service listen in the gallery. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

OAKVILLE, Ont. – The Ontario union for firefighters says a Cornwall councillor’s claim it’s been heavy-handed with the union local is not true.

“Union ordered to clam up by provincial bosses, it took them long enough,” Mark MacDonald tweeted Sunday.

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“Absolutely false, 100 per cent. Absolutely not true,” says Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association President Carmen Santoro, speaking with Cornwall Newswatch from Oakville.

“We would never do that. We always advise our locals but at no point would we say, you know, to clam up and stop advocating for health and safety because you think your staffing levels put the communities and firefighters at risk,” Santoro said.

He says the OPFFA actually joins the Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association in the call for increased staffing as local firefighter Bruce Donig is also a district vice president for the OPFFA. “He keeps me up to speed on what’s happening there and we fully support what they’re doing,” Santoro said.

The Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association has been outspoken and went to the media with their frustrations after hearing of possible plans to delay the filling of four vacant firefighting positions. Santoro says what the Cornwall union local has been doing is what he would expect and encourage from all their union locals. “I applaud that local for taking a strong position on it.”

The tweet from MacDonald appears to rub more salt into a wound that has been festering since budget deliberations surrounding the fire department began in late January.

MacDonald and the Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association got off to an agitated start after the maverick councillor used a “pigs” analogy for emergency services, specifically the fire department, eating the municipal “pie” of tax dollars.

MacDonald apologized weeks later for his comment.

As for firefighting staffing levels, Santoro personally believes fire chiefs and departments like to use the National Fire Protection Association 1710 (NFPA) standards but balk at the staffing recommendations of 14 or 15 available firefighters on any given shift. “You can’t point to a Bible of rules and not use it all,” Santoro said. “We live by 1710…we always reference it and that is the gold standard across fire.”

In his home municipality of Oakville, Santoro says the fire department reaches the standard of 1710 in over 80 per cent of the residential and highrise fires they respond to.

The long-awaited Fire Master Plan, which will chart a course for the fire department, is expected to be reviewed by city council at the end of the month.

Santoro says the decision makers should remember about the return on investment of tax dollars. Whether it’s an electrical problem, a cat in a tree or a flood “firefighters return balance to people’s lives. If there’s a flood in your basement and you don’t know who to call, with respect to the other (emergency) agencies, they call fire. We come there, we try to return some balance to their home.”

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