Nova Scotia

Concerns flare over Town of Yarmouth's plan to contract out dispatch services

The future of local dispatch services has created a rift between the Town of Yarmouth and the union representing its professional firefighters and dispatchers.

Mayor says town has disproportionate bill, firefighters don't want to lose local knowledge

Officials with the Town of Yarmouth are looking for a more cost-effective approach to fire dispatch services. (Google Maps)

The future of local dispatch services has created a rift between the Town of Yarmouth and the union representing its professional firefighters and dispatchers.

Yarmouth's fire department includes eight professional firefighters, a fire inspector and four dispatchers. The group is represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters and has been without a contract since the end of 2016.

During the first day of bargaining last month, officials with the town announced that as a cost-savings measure, they would be looking to put the dispatch service out to tender and eventually lay off the four dispatchers. In a phone interview Friday, Mayor Pam Mood said the service is no longer sustainable for the town.

'The model is broken'

The dispatch service costs $260,000 a year for salaries and benefits. The town sells the service to 24 volunteer fire departments in the region from Clare to Shelburne, with each department paying $100 per month.

But those fees only bring in $28,800 a year. The balance is covered by the town and the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth, with the town picking up 70 per cent of the tab. Mood said the town simply cannot afford to continue to foot so much of the bill, nor is it fair to ask residents in the town to cover such a disproportionate share.

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said the cost of the dispatch service is not sustainable for the town. (Peter Dawson/Radio-Canada)

"The model is broken," she said. "We only have 26 per cent of the population of Yarmouth County."

Union fears loss of local knowledge

The town will ask all affected municipal units if they want to be involved before quotes are sought from potential service providers. Mood said before a contract would be signed with any other provider, the expectation would be that a company can give the same level of service for a lower cost.

Lynn Seeley, president of the Yarmouth Firefighters Association, said the group was blindsided by the town's move and halted bargaining while it tries to save the jobs.

Seeley said a primary concern, aside from the job losses, is losing the local knowledge of the community. Each of the dispatchers has spent time as a volunteer firefighter and knowledge of all coverage areas was a requirement of the job, which he described as "just as stressful as a firefighter's."

Looking for another way

But Mood counters that the firefighters responding to calls have institutional knowledge of their own, and civic address and GPS systems have come a long way in the last decade. She noted contract dispatch services is the model used by municipalities throughout the Annapolis Valley and farther up the South Shore, and she's heard good reports from officials in those areas.

Mood said if other municipal units that benefit from the service want it to stay the way it is, the town is willing to entertain that if a new financial arrangement can be reached.

"That funding model just can't look the same," she said. "This is what we need to do unless we can find another way forward."

Fighting to keep jobs

Meanwhile, Seeley said the union is awaiting legal advice.

He noted the loss of the jobs, which pay about $40,000 each, would also be a loss to the local economy.

"We'll do what's necessary to keep those jobs in town."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca