Does Cornwall need a deputy fire chief? Resources, overtime under budget focus

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)

CORNWALL – The city’s fire chief says overtime costs have probably cost the fire department and the city more than the five vacant positions on the force in 2014.

Richard McCullough presented his departmental budget Friday morning which is looking at a 1.73 per cent increase or an extra $151,418 this year.

McCullough says there are currently five vacant positions on the fire department – a deputy chief’s position and four firefighting positions. He has every intention to fill those positions.

“The overtime you’ve been paying…would it be more than the paid positions,” Coun. Claude McIntosh queried.

“Yes, I believe so,” McCullough answered.

“In your professional opinion, would you recommend replacing those firefighters,” McIntosh asked. McCullough said yes.

The chief explained to the budget committee that, the fire department has boosted its number of officers on a shift from 13 to 14 since 2003, to deal with mounting overtime costs and to cover off for illness and vacation.

McCullough says he can think of three firefighters “off the top of his head” that were off due to long term illness in 2014. “We have an older department, compared to the police department, if I can say that,” as the gallery was filled with members of the Cornwall Fire Department.

Coun. Andre Rivette says he would like to see neighbouring fire departments pick up the slack through mutual aid when firefighting resources are exhausted.

“We have to make some tough decisions here in the next couple of weeks. Make up your mind what you want to do and get it done,” Coun. Andre Rivette said. “I don’t know any department that hires 14 people for a job for 10,” Rivette said. “I’ll be looking at going back to 13 (firefighters).”

Rivette has asked for a report on seeing the four platoon chiefs take over the work of the now-vacant deputy chief’s duties.

“We’re talking value for money and we are getting demonstrably good value for money,” said Coun. Elaine MacDonald. She cited a recent case where firefighters weren’t immediately rehired, which she said was “a disaster” for resulting overtime costs.

Coun. Brock Frost asked about revenue streams for the fire service, noting $10,000 in the 2015 budget submission. Chief McCullough says the department receives money from the province at a rate $410 per hour for responding to crashes on Highway 401 in the Cornwall jurisdiction.

A consultant has been reviewing the Cornwall fire service and a report is due – possibly in February – which will probably show the proper staffing recommendations. “It will be up to council, these recommendations, and you’ll be voting on that,” said Chief McCullough.

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