Rivette “ashamed” of firefighters’ behaviour, calls for fire board

Coun. Andre Rivette, seen here during a December 2014 budget meeting, is expected to push for a fire service board. The councillor says he's ashamed of the actions of the fire service after the union went to the media claiming systemic problems in the service have not been resolved. (Cornwall Newswatch/File)

CORNWALL – Coun. Andre Rivette says he’s “disappointed and ashamed” by the actions of city’s fire service after the union went to local media to air their dirty laundry.

Rivette, who is also the chairman of the Cornwall police service board, also intends on establishing a similar committee of council for the fire department.

Rivette says the four-member board would have two councillors and two people with background in firefighting, such as former fire chiefs. Under his plan, the board would sit down with the Ontario Fire Marshal to “hammer out what regulations we need to follow.”

“They (the union) have their interpretations of what are the regulations and everything else…I think it’s (the board) needed,” Rivette told Cornwall Newswatch. “I think it’s time that council take control of what’s going on over there (at the fire department),” he said.

“We can report back to council the real stories,” Rivette said, saying he has no problem with sitting on the proposed fire board. “I’m prepared to do that because we have a situation here where we need to move ahead.”

The veteran councillor was clearly upset Friday afternoon while speaking at a city budget meeting. “That’s not what you do (going to the media) to get your own way,” he stated. “The new way of reality (is you) sit down and talk.”

The Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association (PFFA), approached by the Seaway News this week, claims next to nothing has been done with the 22 recommendations in the Ontario Fire Marshal (OFM) review of the fire service from August 2013.

CAO Norm Levac says “all those issues (in the OFM report) are there in one form or another and will be addressed” in the fire master plan, expected to come to council next month.

Coun. Rivette, who spoke with the human resources department about the interviewing process for the fire chief’s position, says three of the prospective chiefs come from composite fire departments (a mix of full-time and part-time staff) and one community fire chief has 45 part-time firefighters. “You’re only paid when you’re called in.” Fire Chief Richard McCullough is slated to retire this spring.

Under the current collective agreement, part-time firefighters are not allowed. Coun. Rivette was asked by Cornwall Newswatch whether the city’s hands are tied because the current round of bargaining has gone to binding arbitration. “No, I think arbitration is arbitration. There’s a serious situation when you have a fire department who will not even sit and negotiate with you. The first words out of their mouth is ‘we’re going to arbitration.’ That’s got to stop.”

Rivette also accuses the firefighters’ union of purposely holding up the fire master plan by asking for an Ontario Fire Marshal review last fall. “If they wouldn’t have held it up, sending it to the Fire Marshal’s office, it would have been done.”

During his work with the police board, Rivette says a lot of positive changes have taken place and the same mechanism is needed with the fire department.

Coun. Mark MacDonald says the comments from the Cornwall PFFA came as “a complete shock” after the newspaper report.

He supports the idea of a proposed fire service board.

“They have very serious concerns,” Coun. MacDonald said about the firefighters’ union, while at the same time making a formal apology for his comment likening the emergency services to “pigs” eating a municipal “pie” of tax dollars.

MacDonald said he was sorry and didn’t mean to single out an individual with his comments.

The budget committee meets again on Monday at 3 p.m. where a portion of the meeting is expected to be behind closed doors. Budget committee members are expected to talk about specific departments and positions when looking at trimming the budget.

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