In determining the direction Yorkton should go in terms of Fire Protective Services most members of Council were quick to support a ‘homegrown option’.
Councillor James Wilson said the debate has not been about providing a service to the community.
“No one’s debating the need for a fire service” he said, adding the debate is about how best that service can be provided.
Wilson said the key to the issue was to ensure whatever direction Council chose to go it would not be a decision made and forgotten.
“When is your time to make this happen?” he asked City Administration.
Fire Chief Trevor Morrissey, said it will require “an aggressive marketing strategy,” especially in regards to attracting 19 additional temporary paid-on-call firefighters.
Beyond recruitment Morrissey said much of what is to be accomplished has quantifiable numbers.
For example the idea of employing POC firefighters is in part a way to reduce overtime and stat holiday wage costs. Morrissey said in the last pay period for firefighters he said 123 hours of OT could have been avoided under the locally created service option.
“It’s very measurable,” he said.
“Providing a safe community is one of the pillars of our Community Plan,” said Coun. Larry Pearen.
Pearen said when someone calls 911 and a fire truck, or police car respond, they expect professional people ready to respond to whatever problem is at hand.
In terms of fire protection the Fire Protective Services Operational Review carried out in the fall of 2015 by Dillon Consulting showed the current system in Yorkton has deficiencies in terms of that service, said Pearen.
“We don’t have the necessary depth of response,” he said.
“So we need to deal with that.”
With the locally-created option, it “adds more Paid-On-Call firefighters,” said Pearen, which would increase the ability of the force to respond with greater numbers to a call.
Wilson also questioned how the local option might be accepted at the fire hall where there have been suggestions the ‘culture’ has not always been good between professional full-time firefighters, and temporary, or auxiliary firefighters. He told Morrissey it ‘Will take leadership” to make the changes work. He then asked “how do we change this perception that we have?”
Morrissey said when he first arrived in Yorkton he tried simply to put such things in the past.
“I was pretty adamant I didn’t want to hear it,” he said, but he came to recognize he had to look at what had transpired in the past.
Morrissey said the issue goes back to a time when there was “a threat” to the jobs of the full-time firefighters being replaced by auxiliary firefighters, and that caused friction which lingered.
Coun. Les Arnelien said to try and implement one of the options provided in the Dillon report would only create more friction and would ultimately create a situation where the City would likely incur legal costs.
With the local firefighter union part of creating the local option the likelihood of acceptance in a collective agreement is much better, he reasoned.
“And it will save approximately $200,000 annually,” noted Arnelien, adding that hits the target of a system that was both less expensive and more efficient.
Coun. Chris Wyatt was far from convinced.
Looking at current costs he said four temporary POC firefighters cost the City $186,000 in wages last year. The option being favoured would grow that segment of the force to 24, and suggests a cost saving of $200,000.
“That doesn’t work for me,” he said.
While not buying the savings outlined in the local option, Wyatt also worried about what the implemented option will mean long term.
“We won’t be the Council dealing with this,” he said, adding it will be future Councils that will be saddled with financing whatever the real costs of the new option might be.
Coun. Ross Fisher said accepting the option would not mean it would be implemented, noting “it’s an option we’re going to try to negotiate to work.” He termed the local option, “a good basis for moving forward.”
Mayor Bob Maloney agreed with the assessment.
“This really is a starting point to a process,” he said.
Although since it was created collectively acceptance seems likely.
“I think it says a lot when a group can work together toward a common end,” he said.
Neil Matechuk, president of the firefighter local in the city said while there would be some “language” to hammer out through negotiations, being part of developing the option makes it likely to be accepted where in the contract itself, or through a letter-of-understanding attached to the contract. He said the big thing is that the current 16 full-time positions are maintained, and they will have added response options by adding the POC positions.
Fisher said the option if eventually implemented would “grow the number of firefighters that are available to respond,” and provide “more flexibility in how firefighters are utilized within the city.”
In achieving those goals the option could also lead to “some labour peace,” between the City and its firefighters, reasoned Fisher.
Council would support the local option, although Wyatt was a dissenting vote.