Fire and emergency operational services report approved

Wainfleet Township Fire Hall #4 will not be closed as recommended in the Fire and Emergency Services Review Final Report until all the facts, budget concerns and other information has been studied in cooperation with the Fire Master Plan Implementation Committee.

Wainfleet Township Fire Hall #4 remains open. 44 recommendations from the report will be studied by staff along with the Fire Master Plan Committee. 

Fire and Emergency Services Review Final Report approved ‘in principle’

Wainfleet council approved a fire and emergency operational services report from Fire Chief Kevin Foster Tuesday night during its regular meeting.

The report asked council to approve in principle the fire and emergency services review final report and recommendations from Dillon Consulting. The consultant’s report contained 44 different operational and policy related recommendations.

The report worried many Wainfleet residents, including members of the Wainfleet Firefighters Association, particularly a recommendation the fire service go to a three station system, closing down Station #4 at Wellandport Rd. and Concession 6.

The report cited low recruitment numbers for the volunteer department, and that it would be better to combine the assets of this station with the Winger station, on Hwy. 3.

Members of the firefighters association approached local media regarding the recommendation and Tuesday night’s meeting of council had a full gallery of interested residents who wanted to know more about the report and the recommendations.

Comments came from CAO Michael Smith before the discussion about the report.

“As council is aware back in May or early June, it authorized the CAO and staff to engage in the undertaking of the fire and emergency services operational review,” Smith said. “Through that process, Dillon Consulting was engaged to do that.”

“At the last council meeting, council did receive the report, since then they have received the supplementary report, a 220 page document that has 44 recommendations within that document,” he said.

“So, tonight the fire chief has produced a report for consideration,” he said. “The report is merely asking for council to support the report ‘in principle.’”

“’In principle’ means to support the general intent of the report, the specific recommendations within the body of that report will be subject to future council debate and direction,” he said.

Before opening for discussion Smith said, “I just want to be very clear that at no time through this process has staff recommended the closing of any fire stations.”

Ald. Terry Gilmore asked Smith to clarify whether the recommendations would be reviewed before being implemented.

“In your experience has a recommendation from a consultant’s report ever been directly implemented into policy without a formal peer review process?” asked Gilmore.

“The answer would be no,” Smith said. “Typically, any report that is produced from a consultant might be referred to staff to review or analyze, and any direction or recommendations moving forward would be approved by council through a staff report, not a consultant report.”

Ald. Ted Hessels, a volunteer firefighter, asked about the consultant’s and fire chief’s report. One point he had was about the exclusion of the fire master plan implementation committee from reviewing the consultant’s report and about the report and staff considering types of calls answered by the service including motor vehicle collisions and medical calls.

“The consultant’s report actually says that Hall #4 should be closed and when I receive this report that we receive this it in principle, to me it is pretty clear that staff is recommending what this report has done,” he said.

“The other thing I think the report (later clarified to referring to the consultant’s report and the fire chief’s report) really missed out on, which I think is important, even more critical than fire calls is the medical and motor vehicle collision calls,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like that took that into consideration.”

“My other point is we have a fire master plan implementation committee that this council put in place,” he said. “I would recommend that this report be brought back to the implementation committee and that they come to us with their recommendations.”

“These are local people, I think we would feel a lot more comfortable with their recommendations, a third party that doesn’t come from around here, doesn’t know how things work in Wainfleet, unless they are here and they have been completely in it I don’t think they can understand it,” he said. “So, I would like to see us put this back to the implementation committee and have them come back to us with some recommendations.”

Smith answered the questions explaining that chief Foster is still new relatively new to the process, it was himself that recommended the operational review, he started the process.

“Council will recall that about two or three meetings ago we received a letter from the fire master plan implementation committee signed by the co-chair that they would put themselves on hiatus until the operational review was completed, which they have done,” Smith said. “You will see as one of the recommendations in this report that council, pending approval of the principle content, will then go back and have that dialogue with the fire master plan implementation committee. Staff are already in the process of doing this, one of the co-chairs is in the process of setting up meetings through our executive assistant in early November. So, that process is underway.”

“When we talk about medical and MVC’s, the answer is ‘no,’ staff did not address that, I can’t speak to the consultant’s report however the author is here tonight if council wishes to ask him more specific questions around medical calls, I’m sure he would be happy to respond,” Smith said in response to one of Hessels’ questions.

“The reason staff hasn’t done that (taken medical calls and accident calls into consideration) is as I have indicated,” he said. “There are 44 recommendations in this report. The only recommendations that staff are looking at right now is the organizational structure as recommended within the report and that is it.”

“Part of that organizational structure is the implementation of the assistant chief and the remuneration in regards to that,” he said.

“So the reason is that staff has not also addressed 33 of the other recommendations in the report yet,” he said. “As I in my opening comments that will all be done through subsequent reports.”

“The implementation of the fire operation review is going to be a two, three, potentially a four year implementation program,” Smith said. “It’s going to take some time to process the considerations and budget considerations that will come to council in future for consideration.”

“In order for staff to react to a consultant’s report it one needs it to be approved in principle,” he said. “In 2013 Galloway and Associates completed the fire master plan. It was approved by council ‘in principle’ and then it was forwarded to the fire master plan implementation committee. It is the exact same process we are following here. We are suggesting that it be approved ‘in principle,’ which is the general intent, and each of the recommendations can come forth.”

“Just to be clear, no, at this point in time staff are not supporting the report recommending the closure of the fire station because we need figure out and sort that out,” he said. “This is a consultant’s recommendation, not necessarily a staff recommendation. That would be a subsequent report that will include studying engagement and including a costing model that will be researched later.”

Ald. Richard Dykstra asked Foster directly if this was his report, if he agreed with the changes in structure being proposed by adding three new deputy chiefs and new captains were, in his opinion, necessary, and he asked if he agreed with going to three districts.

“The basis of the report comes from the Dillon Consulting Report, the basis of my recommendations and staff report are drawn from there which is also consistent with what the CAO mentioned earlier, other documentation and reports that council has received previously,” Foster said. “I believe that the structure that is being proposed and is being recommended is something that is suitable for the organization and it’s consistent with what you would see typically across the province and in other jurisdictions.”

“I think it is very important and a great opportunity for us to grow and develop our organizational committee structure to allow people to have some more input into the organization and allow them to have the opportunity to build it and be part of that building process,” he said. “So, I’m very supportive of the recommendations that are there.”

“As far as fulfilling the positions, if council approves it we can move forward with it,” he said. “My anticipation will be is that we will have people from within our organization that would be interested and suitable fill those leadership roles.”

Ald. Betty Konc proposed a motion that the fire and emergency services prepare a five year business plan to address the 44 recommendations to “include everything the fire department will need including equipment, training, communications, closure of (station) No. 4, amalgamation of (station) No.1 if that’s to happen, and the direction we want to go.”

“We can certainly provide a five year work plan,” Foster said. “Obviously some of those items will require council to provide directions and decisions. So, certainly as long as we are working in partnership I believe we should be able to prepare something such as that.”

The motion for the work plan was carried.

In what Mayor April Jeffs referred to as round two of the discussion, Hessels voiced his disapproval of the report. He made a motion to defer the report to the fire master plan implementation committee for them to review and bring back comments on the report.

“I do not feel comfortable with this report,” Hessels said. “I would like the fire master plan implementation committee to go over this report and come back to us with their recommendations.”

“As I already mentioned in the first round of questions,” Smith said. “It’s already inherent in the report, part of the recommendations is that there will be full consultation with the fire master plan implementation committee . So, we have already built that in.”

“I just want to point out that there is a very distinct role between and advisory committee and staff,” he said. “In a perfect world, both the advisory council and staff are on the same page.”

“What we are suggesting in the report is that we (staff) will be working with the fire master plan implementation committee ,” he said.

“I just do not feel comfortable with this, there are too many things that I can’t accept unless our own community has given us this input,” Hessels said. “We have a third party telling us what to do here, why don’t we have people who live here and work here and know the area come back with recommendations? Why are we always hiring consultants to give us information on the simplest of things?”

“That’s why I cannot accept this report ‘in principle,’ unless we have the implementation committee go over the report and get back to us with their recommendations,” he said.

Konc asked Hessels what exactly he would like to see. Hessels replied that he wants the implementation committee to go over two reports that were generated in the past five years and come back to council with their recommendations.

“I think the implementation committee has a lot better feeling for this community than consultants,” he said.

“We hire consultants, we all supported we hire this consultant, and then we question their recommendations,” Jeffs said. “But, Michael reiterated, it is built into the body of this report that these recommendations I believe, one-by-one, will come to the fire master plan implementation committee.”

“The plan is, under this recommendation, and we highly recommend it, that staff and the fire master plan implementation committee work through the program together and come back to council with their presentations,” Smith said. “That is what we are suggesting in the fire chief’s report.”

“I think what I am hearing is that you want the committee is given the report to study and come back with their recommendations and staff come back with their recommendations,” he said. “Council based on procedural bylaw can only make decisions based on reports written by staff. If an advisory committee provides recommendations, council would then direct staff to investigate these further and present a report. What we are recommending is that right off the hop is that staff and the implementation committee collaborate on each recommendation.”

“Approving something ‘in principle’ is a real hang up for people and I understand that,” Jeffs said. “But, it is my understanding that things are going to come back one-by-one and we’ll deal with them, some may be combined into two recommendations, but, we are going to get to go through them and decide if that is what we need and if they are appropriate. We will do that one-by-one.”

“That’s where I feel comfortable with this,” she said. “I feel this is the foundation for moving forward (accepting ‘in principle’) and then we can deal with these things with proper input. People can phone us and email us and let us know how they feel about each issue.”

“But I think we can get stalled out if we don’t take that step,” she said.

She did ask that if the report is approved ‘in principle’ what council could expect in the short term. Smith responded that they could start rolling up their sleeves and getting work done. Requests for proposals for the design build on one station could be issued, positions could be advertised for leadership roles and they could work on the work plan for how to proceed for the December 5 meeting of council. They also need to look at several things to be considered for the 2017 budget including updating radios and pagers.

“There will be no major discussions around closing any fire stations at this time,” Smith said. “Because we haven’t even met with the committee to discuss whether that really is truly in the best interest of the department at this time.”

The motion put forth by Hessels was defeated.

The fire chief’s report was accepted by council in a recorded vote, Hessels and Dykstra were opposed to the report.

With the report approved ‘in principle’ the work can begin on addressing the 44 recommendations put forth in the consultant’s report.

The decision didn’t sit well with Gord Davies, Wainfleet Firefighter Association President.

“This is all very confusing,” Davies said. “When I read it, I thought when they accept it things were going to be implemented.”

“Now, do I feel that all the stakeholders are going to have input? I’m not so sure,” he said. “The implementation committee, absolutely, they should be allowed to come back and say ‘we agree with this or we don’t agree with that.’”

“Everything seems to go by the wayside,” he said. “Before you know it we are asking ‘How did we get here?’ and I’m with Hessels on this and Dykstra, to say ‘you know what let’s just step back and take a good look at this.’”

“The time sensitive stuff is taken care of, we don’t necessarily need to start implementing anything, so, let’s some time so everybody has a chance to have their say in it,” he said.

“I don’t believe everything is going to be picked apart the way it should be, there’s a lot of good stuff and there is a lot of bad stuff,” he said. “I don’t think all the stakeholders have had a chance to get involved, all the stakeholders have not had a chance to say ‘we agree in principle’ or ‘we don’t agree in principle.’”

There was still a lingering doubt over having the consultant group come in, Hessels voiced it in the meeting and the association president raised the same concern.

“I can certainly understand the comments Hessels was making earlier,” Jeffs said. “Because they, including Hessels, are the boots on the ground on this.”

She pointed out that many of the firefighters on the department have many years of experience at this, and that they feel that they should have more of a voice in these decisions.

“And that is where we have the fire master plan implementation committee coming in and kind of moving parallel with this,” she said. “We have two active firefighters on that committee with many years of experience, so they are representing the firefighters in this matter, they can receive and pass on comments and information and insure they have their perspective represented on all matters.”

“I understand the concern over the third party group coming in. They do their research on best practices guided by their experience in the industry,” Smith said. “That’s what they are paid to do and come up with recommendations based on your situation which you hired them to look at. So, that’s what they did.”

“So, the next steps to that, as we said in council, is there are individual recommendation which need to be vented against the strategic plan of the township, against the budget, and all those things to make sure they ultimately fit in the overall plan of the township,” he said.

“Some of these recommendations are going to take a few years to implement,” he said. “Some are going to be quick, some are going to take a long conversation with stakeholders, community engagement, there’s going to be some budget implications. So, these things don’t happen overnight.”

“There’s 44 recommendations, that’s a lot of work,” he said.

Jeffs also said that some recommendations can become outdated before they are implemented.

“We may say at the time that something is good for 2016, but, two years later, they become outdated and it gets changed or goes away,” Jeffs said.

“Some of the recommendations may change through legislation,” Smith said. “Some may be best practices now, but, may change in the future.”

“We have to keep cycling back to make sure that everything is accurate,” he said. “That’s why typically these plans have a shelf life of about five to seven years. You have to renew to make sure that the recommendations are still accurate according to best practices or legislation changes.”

“There will be lots of reporting back to council with public input and stuff over the months and years to come,” Smith said in conclusion.

The entire report can be read online on the Township of Wainfleet’s website. The fire chief’s report is FSR-006/2016 and  the consultant’s report is Appendix “A.”

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