Fire master plan will address staffing levels: PFFA

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 head of the Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association (PFFA) says the fire master plan, due to be released this month, will put a lot of the debate over firefighter staffing to bed.

“It would put to rest some of the debate about staffing. The staffing’s going to get addressed in there,” President Jason Crites said in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch.

Crites, who is on the report’s steering committee, says he has read and reviewed the yet-to-be-released plan.

His comments echo CAO Norm Levac’s assertion Friday the 15-year plan for the fire department will address some or all of the shortcomings in an Ontario Fire Marshal’s report from August, 2013.

Contrary to Coun. Andre Rivette’s assertion, Crites says it wasn’t the union but the city CAO that suggested the fire service be reviewed by the Ontario Fire Marshal.

The budget committee has debated whether to fill four vacant firefighter positions, and whether the service needs to run with 14 firefighters on every shift when the provincial minimum is 10.

Crites also denies Coun. Rivette’s accusation the union has held up the process of bringing the plan to city council. “We haven’t held it up because we don’t want that coming out. Our concern has been all along – and I wish this process had been a lot faster – it’s a 15 year road map. We got to make sure we get this out correctly.”

As for staffing, the PFFA continues to cite the National Fire Protection Association standard of 15 workers on every shift. Crites was asked if he wants to add staff. “In a perfect world, we’d have the 15. We get that there’s budgetary concerns.”

Crites suggests the four positions should be filled to bring the firefighting complement up to 14 and then “work through” the staffing levels once the fire master plan is out. “Then we can figure out where we need to be.”

Establishing a fire board

During the budget debate Friday, Coun. Andre Rivette says he wants to see a fire board established, similar to the police service board.

Crites is keeping an open mind to the idea. “I’d have to know more, I guess, but I’m exactly 100 per cent sure how the police board works either. It’s not really my domain.”

But Crites says education and debate is needed on all sides because he sees councillors struggling to make decisions about the fire service.

“I can see some of them struggling. I’ve talked to them. I know there’s people at that table that want more information when making these decisions,” he said.

Hammering out a contract

As for settling a new firefighting contract, Crites disagrees with Coun. Rivette’s suggestion that the PFFA went right to arbitration. “His suggestion that we walked in and said, well, we’re going to arbitration. That’s patiently false. That’s not how that process works.”

He says the city and the union met nearly a half dozen times before the trigger was pulled to have a third party arbitrator settle their contract.

With hearings set to happen in June, Crites declined to get into specifics because the union could be accused of bargaining in bad faith.

Even though an arbitrator will hear the case, Crites says the city and the PFFA “recently” met to continue negotiations. “The assertion that we just want to go to arbitration because, somehow that’s good for us, that’s certainly not how we view it. The best deal is always a negotiated deal,” Crites said.

To the best of his knowledge, Crites believes a negotiated deal has happened once in the last 30 years.

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