Sudbury·Audio

Greater Sudbury fire services to send full-time fire fighters to more calls

A fatal fire from last year has prompted the Greater Sudbury fire department to change who it sends out on calls.

Change in Sudbury fire department policy could mean tax hike in outlying areas

Under a new policy, Sudbury's full-time firefighters are now going to calls in the outlying area, previously only served by volunteer brigades. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

A fatal fire from last year has prompted the Greater Sudbury fire department to change who it sends out on calls.

Now, full-time firefighters are going to fires in areas previously only served by volunteers, including Lively, Chelmsford and Garson.

In May 2014, a children's aid worker died in a fire at an apartment building in Hanmer.

The area is covered by volunteer firefighters. Officially, full-time firefighters from stations in Sudbury were not supposed to respond, but trucks from the main downtown station were sent anyway, arriving at the scene at the same time as the local volunteer trucks.

Trevor Bain is the executive deputy chief for fire and paramedic services in Greater Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)
 "We could have done better," said executive deputy chief of fire and paramedic services Trevor Bain.

He said the real challenge is the city doesn't know how many volunteers will respond to a fire call, although there is some new software he hopes will help with that problem.

"We don't honestly know on a daily basis how many people we have and we don't want to fail the people we serve," Bain said.

He said the change was made a few months back and, since then, full-timers have gone to about 10 calls in the outlying area.

Bain said there's been a mixed reaction to the new "interim policy," but he said he's not worried about igniting old political tensions between volunteers and professional firefighters.

"I'm not concerned about some kind of turf war."

'Uncertain' policy

However, Gord O'Coin, the regional director of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which represents the 300 unionized volunteer firefighters in the city, said his members fear "the uncertainty of what the policy actually means."

O'Coin said volunteers are worried they are being phased out and are concerned the city is not recognizing how they are a more "cost-effective" way of providing fire protection than full-timers.

"In our opinion, volunteers are able to do the work as well as career firefighters."

But Rob Hyndman, the president of the Sudbury Professional firefighters Association, disagrees.

"We're able to get on scene before the volunteers in their own area, so how cost effective is that?"

Hyndman's union, which represents the 100 full-time firefighters in Greater Sudbury, has been pushing for this change for years, especially with more and more people moving to suburban areas of the city, such as the Valley.

"There's a point where a community outgrows its volunteer service, so it's a natural progression," he said.

Rob Hyndman is a Sudbury firefighter and president of the Professional Firefighters Association. (Erik White/CBC )

Hyndman is also hoping this will lead to a revisiting of the area rating tax system, where people in areas covered by volunteer fire departments pay less tax.

City council has asked for a report on area rating, expected to be tabled at a future meeting.

Also expected on the agenda by the end of the year is the emergency services "optimization plan" which could include making this new interim policy permanent.

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