Deep River's fire staff halved as costs mount
Illness, retirements gut eastern Ontario muncipality fire hall staff
Deep River, Ont., is feeling the heat after a series of events left their fire station with half its usual staff.
The shortage means there's no firefighter on duty evenings and weekends in the small municipality about 190 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.
In July, the crew of nine full-time firefighters was reduced after two retired. Contract workers were added to help, but when their agreements weren't renewed and two others took extended sick leave, the station crew dwindled to five, including the chief.
Town council said part of the reason they haven't been replaced is that Deep River has the highest per capita operating costs of all Ontario municipalities. Deep River is also the smallest community in Ontario with full-time firefighters, at a cost of $1.5 million per year.
Discussions on how to help a struggling fire department have been ongoing for years, with at least two arbitration meetings held over the last three years.
We currently have a group of four first-class firefighters without current basic training.- Fire Chief Rob Shaw
Fire Chief Rob Shaw said staffing shortages are only part of the problem, and that after those arbitration meetings he also asked for better training for the firefighters.
He complained to the Ministry of Labour, who then asked the municipality to comply by making courses available, but the firefighters didn't attend those sessions when the training dates were available.
"We currently have a group of four first-class firefighters without current basic training," Shaw said.
Low staffing and a lack of training forced the municipality to shift to daytime hours from Monday to Friday, meaning evenings and weekends are being neglected, Shaw said..
'These are serious changes'
These changes have been coming for years but the general public had no idea, said Ann Bryan, the District Vice President of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association.
"The community is well engaged, they know they have full-time firefighters, [but] they didn't know the full-time firefighters had been reduced," she said.
"These are serious changes."
Deep River currently has a mutual aid agreement with neighbouring towns, so first responders can be called in the event of a fire, but they also have to fulfil those same obligations to those municipalities.
The four firefighters will continue to wear their pagers off duty, Bryan said.
The department responds to about one call every three days and hasn't had a working fire since the fall of last year, according to the town clerk.