Sault council hopes new plan ends 'ugly chapter' for fire department

Sault Ste. Marie city council votes to hire eight more firefighters, just over two years after voting to convert 20 firefighters into paramedics.

The about-face on the decision to shrink the fire service comes following a new risk assessment

Sault Ste. Marie city council is reversing a decision from 2015 that would see 20 positions from the fire department move over to the paramedic service. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Sault Ste. Marie city council has corrected a decision from two years ago when it voted to shrink the city's fire department.

In the fall of 2015, council voted to replace the next 20 firefighters who retire or quit with paramedics, since fire calls are down and medical calls are up.

The city's firefighter union lobbied the city to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, which was delivered at Monday night's council meeting.

It recommends that Sault Ste. Marie have 15 firefighters on every shift, which means the total staffing needs to go from 68 to 76.

City councillor Paul Christian said a lot of "heartache" could have been avoided if council had this report before making the initial decision.

Cost of plan not yet known

"I think everyone around the table recognizes that we are not experts," Christian told council.

"We relied on information that may not have been completely accurate, so I'm not too happy about that."

Matthew Shoemaker was one of several city councillors who hoped this new blueprint for the fire service will end in-fighting in the department. 

"I hope that they will lead us on a path to more harmonious relationships and put an ugly chapter behind us,"  Shoemaker said. 

There is no word yet on how much this new fire plan will cost taxpayers in Sault Ste. Marie. 

But, council is considering going down from four fire halls to three. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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