Sudbury

Sudbury fire services holds 1st public meeting on new plans

The City of Greater Sudbury held its first community meeting about the fire services optimization proposal on Monday night. Members of the crowd asked heated questions about the cost of volunteer firefighters and just how response times would decrease.

Frustrations around amalgamation surface during fire services meeting

The public meetings into the proposed fire optimization plan drew dozens of people and many heated comments in the winter and spring of 2017. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

The first public meeting on the city's proposed fire services optimization plan raised frustrations about the future and the past.

City staff are traveling around Greater Sudbury, explaining how proposed changes to the fire department will ensure more residents are safe and outdated fire halls will be replaced.

But "replaced" means merged, in Lively's case.

Lively's fire hall is one of nine that's set to close down. Around 200 people packed into Kinsmen Hall in Lively Monday night to hear why.

Stacy Paajanen lives one block from the fire hall. She says she's "terrified" to lose the local emergency services.

"If you're going to take a fire hall away where these fire fighters live on 8th, live on 9th, live on 10th, live on 11th, if there's a fire within the area, they're going to get that fire hall faster than if they're coming from Black Lake," says Paajanen. 

"If you take a fire hall, people aren't going to feel as safe."

Reduction in volunteers, but more full-time firefighters 

During the hours-long presentation, fire and paramedic service staff explained why certain stations are merging, pointed to how response times will decrease, and ran through how much more residents might have to pay in property tax.

While some volunteer and professional firefighters were there, most people in the crowd were concerned residents like Don Blackwell.

One of the proposals in the city's plan is to cut the number of volunteer firefighters in half while focusing on improving and maximizing on professional, full-time firefighters.

Blackwell says that would be a mistake since volunteers are more likely to know the areas they respond to as they live there, and their response times would be faster.

"I've lived in Lively all my life, raised my children here and I'm still here," says Blackwell. "Our house caught fire when I was 15 years old, and the volunteer [firefighters] were there within five minutes and basically saved our house."

"This is ludicrous. We're going to suffer here. And the houses are older, there's more opportunities for fires and we're not going to have anybody who can really be here in a timely fashion."

Amalgamation to blame?

Many in the crowd blamed amalgamation for the issues they're now facing. Sudbury's Deputy Fire chief, Darrell McAloney, says it's true the city didn't have a plan for fire services back in 2001, but that's why this long-term project is so important now.

"We've never developed a plan since then. We've never developed a vehicle replacement plan, a staffing plan. None of that has been done and that's what we're trying to accomplish here," says McAloney.

"I've been a frontline fire fighter for 18 plus years, I understand the heritage of the fire fighter service. But in our analysis of the risk, especially in some of the major suburban areas surrounding the city core, we found there's a significant amount of risk, industrial and residential. When you reach a certain point about the level of risk you're exposed to, you have to make a decision about how to respond."

The next public meeting is this Wednesday in Coniston, where the local fire station is also slated to shut down.

Local councillor Michael Vagnini wasn't present at the meeting, but sent word that there would be a second meeting in Lively within two weeks. 

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