Windsor city council will close fire stations, build a new facility, re-jig positions, and hire several new firefighters in a sweeping new plan to deal with an arbitration ruling that came down from the province in late October.
It included a retroactive pay increase and reduced working hours. The salary raise will bump a first-class firefighter’s pay to $90,000 annually by 2014 and cost the city about $12.8 million.
The ruling also meant the number of hours firefighters work per week will be reduced from 48 to 42 hours beginning in late 2014. That meant the city could have to hire as many as 30 additional firefighters. Firefighters had been without a contract since 2005.
On Tuesday, Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis explained the details of a plan unanimously approved by council.
Highlights of the plan include:
- consolidate fire stations No. 2 and No .6 and build a new station on Chandler Road
- relocate station No. 5
- drivers for District Fire Chiefs, who are also firefighters, will become front line firefighters
- District Fire Chiefs redesignated as Assistant Fire Chiefs
- two new firefighters hired
The president of the Windsor Professional Firefighters Association, Angelo Gertsakis, said the association will grieve the redesignation of the District Chiefs and the elimination of drivers for those chiefs.
Mayor Francis said this plan will not raise taxes and will improve service for 50,000 people in the city.
He said there are currently more than 94,000 people in the city who's fire service isn't up to a provincial response time standard. That standard says ten firefighters need to be on scene within ten minutes of a fire call. This is called the "Ten-Ten" standard.
"That doesn't mean there are no fire responders," said Francis. "That doesn't mean there is no fire response. That doesn't mean there is no fire truck arriving or people arriving to put out the fire."
Fire Chief Montone said this level of response time has been normal for the city for decades.
Francis said closing and consolidating stations, and building two news ones, as well as adjusting the number and role of firefighters, will improve the 10-10 time for 50,000 residents.
"The public should be pretty disgusted with what happened," said Angelo Gertsakis, the president of the union representing Windsor firefighters. "There's been no consultation at all with the public on this. No one has been able to put their word in, or their advice in, or ask questions on it. And is basically saying 'here's what we're doing and we're done with it.'"
Chief Montone had a different take on the plan.
"We're going to be better situated in the community," he said. "Not only to deal with the incidents we respond to today but well into the future."
Gertsakis admitted the city can set the level of service in Windsor. However, he said council cannot unilaterally change the collective agreement, and the union would be taking action to stop some of the staffing changes. He also said the firefighters would be presenting council with an alternative solution.
"Unfortunately, the mayor and council wanted to get this done a lot sooner than later," he said. "We're still going to be working on what we think is the best route to go. We're going to put a proposal together like we promised that we would be doing and we're still going to go forward with that."