A decision on minimum staffing levels rendered in Ontario has Charlottetown firefighters hopeful that change is coming.
An arbitration panel recently ruled that the city of Sudbury, Ont., must add more on-duty personnel at the fire station in its Val Therese community, citing health and safety risks linked to deploying fewer than four firefighters to structure fires.
Spemcer Waite, president of the Charlottetown Professional Firefighters Association, said the ruling is a significant boost to ensure the same level of service is provided in Charlottetown. The local association is also preparing to enter negotiations for a new contract with the city in the near future.
“It’s good the arbitrator took into account an optimization (report) that was done for the city (of Sudbury) in 2017, and it identified a lot of the shortcomings, very much like we have done," Waite said, adding that the population the Sudbury station serves is smaller than Charlottetown. “The municipality (of Charlottetown) has had many studies done over the years to identify shortcomings that have not necessarily been addressed.’’
The Charlottetown union, which is a member of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), has long argued there should be a minimum of four firefighters at Station 1 on Kent Street (the Sherwood station is staffed entirely of volunteers) when the initial call comes in and the first fire truck responds.
At present, the Kent Street station is staffed by one to three firefighters at a time — three between Monday and Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; three from midnight to 8 a.m. seven days a week; and one firefighter from 4 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week.
Waite said firefighters are trained to have four firefighters at the scene upon arrival — two firefighters to make entry and two on backup in case those going in run into trouble.
“That’s a general guideline, and we’re just not following it (here),’’ the union leader said, explaining that it’s a safety issue for firefighters and the public. “Our guys are challenged each and every time they roll up to any call."
Minimum staffing situation with the Charlottetown Fire Department, handling the immediate response:
Station 1, Kent Street
- Three firefighters, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- One firefighter, seven days per week, 4 p.m. to midnight.
- Three firefighters, seven days per week, midnight to 8 a.m.
- One firefighter, Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Station 2, St. Peters Road
- Entire volunteer complement. Volunteers have to get to station first when call comes in.
Waite said the local union is still in the process of learning how the Ontario arbitration panel arrived at its decision, saying it could have been arrived at through the bargaining process, through a grievance or over safety concerns.
“I don’t know everything yet, but whichever way it goes, it’s great news."
Coun. Julie McCabe, chairwoman of the city’s human resources committee, said it would be inappropriate to comment as the city will be entering talks with the firefighters’ union soon.
“It is anticipated that some of the issues raised in the (Sudbury decision) may come up at the bargaining table," McCabe said. “The city feels that at this time its responses should be reserved for that forum."
Waite said change is needed.
“It puts firefighters in a precarious situation when you have limited staff because you have to wait for additional resources to arrive before you can make any kind of rescue," he said. “(The Sudbury decision) really identifies that. When we go to calls, we can’t make an immediate rescue; a safe rescue. It’s impossible for us."