CORNWALL – Eighty-four days into the job, Cornwall Fire Chief Pierre Voisine joked “who’s counting…it’s been a great 84 days.”
But his tone quickly turned serious. “Now’s the time to get to work…to re-engineer this fire service,” Fire Chief Pierre Voisine told councillors as he presented a “high level” explanation of implementing the plan.
The chief pushed to move ahead “as quickly as possible” to hire the four vacant firefighting positions characterizing it as “low-hanging fruit” in the plan that makes dozens of recommendations.
So far in 2015, the fire department is at 85 per cent of this year’s overtime budget. “Financially we’re already in a bit of a bind,” the chief said, though he hopes to correct that through the balance of 2015.
The chief said firefighters are working a 57 hour work week, a highly unusual situation compared to other places in Ontario. “In this business that’s not a a good thing. Mistakes on the fire ground (tired workers) are costly,” said Voisine.
The chief said the master plan suggests a ratio which can only be accomplished by reinstatement of four firefighters – one in every platoon.
There is actually five vacant positions because one fireman is off on long term illness.
Coun. Carilyne Hebert, with support of Coun. Bernadette Clement, presented a motion to break policy and deal with the hiring Monday night. It needed a two-thirds majority, which it received from council.
But the majority of councillors were not warm to the quick hiring. Coun. David Murphy said he wasn’t ready to make a snap decision on something that could cost the city roughly $300,000.
“If I’m lacking sleep and I make a few typos (at work) that’s one thing,” Coun. Carilyne Hebert said, suggesting the hires need to happen now for the safety of the community.
Coun. Maurice Dupelle said he wanted more information including where the overtime costs were coming from. “I’m not ready to make a $300,000 decision with half the information.”
“We simply don’t have the numbers, we simply don’t have the facts,” Coun. Brock Frost said in siding with Dupelle and Murphy.
Coun. Bernadette Clement remarked about it being a “big 84 days” for the fire chief, and the fire service is something council has “worried” about. “When the chief comes after 84 days and he says ‘we’re carrying that liability,’ I get nervous,” the lawyer said. She supported Coun. Hebert’s plan.
Coun. Mark MacDonald took exception to what transpired around the council table asking if administration knew the chief would be asking for an accelerated hiring plan. CAO Norm Levac said the only plan on Monday was to receive the Fire Master Plan.
In the end, a majority of councillors voted to hire the four firefighters after Coun. Brock Frost changed his position after hearing his peers.
Balance of Fire Master Plan
The Fire Master Plan also has recommendations on improving the service including “a lot of work to be done” when it comes to administration, the chief said.
“We are creating our policy suite, redefining our core services…and we’ll take care of our people,” he said.
As for fire prevention, focus will be on the most vulnerable citizens, especially in high-rises.
The chief said a recurring problem is making sure the city is not left with the building stock that it currently has. Cornwall traditionally has many wood-framed, war-time era homes that were built closely together.
The regulations will also have a Fire Prevention Policy, “something that’s never been done.”
In keeping with the plan on the council agenda, the balance of the plan will be discussed Sept. 14.
The fire chief was concerned that after hiring the firefighters there will also be training, meaning current workers will continue to pull 57 hour work weeks until the new recruits are ready to work.