Finding and keeping firefighters in The Blue Mountains has and will be a struggle, in part because of how much it costs to live locally.
The new Fire Master Plan for The Blue Mountains identifies recruitment of volunteer firefighters as a key challenge for the future.
The Blue Mountains council received the Fire Master Plan at its committee of the whole meeting on May 3. The report and its 38 recommendations were adopted by the committee at the meeting.
Fire Chief Steve Conn and Rick Monkman, a consultant from Emergency Management and Training Inc. presented the plan to the committee. When asked by Mayor Alar Soever what challenges the town faces with its fire department going forward, Monkman identified three major themes: affordable/attainable housing, recruitment of volunteer firefighters and the cost of equipment.
“COVID has sent real estate values everywhere through the roof. Your community is not alone,” said Monkman, who said he has seen some clients looking at obtaining housing for their firefighters or exploring options to have firefighters on duty live and stay at the fire hall. “You really have to look outside the box. It’s going to take years until you build up your numbers.”
Because volunteer firefighters are on-call, they have to live in the community.
Monkman also said general recruitment of firefighters and the rising cost of equipment/trucks would also continue to be challenging. He said he has seen Canadian municipalities begin exploring the market for used fire fighting equipment as a means to control costs. Many American municipal jurisdictions lease their trucks and get new vehicles when the lease expires, which creates a market for less-costly used vehicles.
Mayor Soever asked if “double hatting” would be a way for smaller municipalities to solve recruiting issues. “Double hatting” is when a full-time firefighter at a larger city department moonlights at a smaller department during times when they are off duty.
“That would be a big solution for a lot of our rural firefighters,” said Soever.
Monkman said “double hatting” could help in the future because it allows for experienced firefighters to join smaller departments and help with training and mentorship. However, he also noted there were challenges as future workplace-related illnesses firefighters encounter down the road could create potential liability.
The Fire Master Plan itself received broad support around the council table with Monkman praising the town’s efforts at public and stakeholder engagement.
“This was one of the most enjoyable and cooperative master plans (Emergency Management and Training Inc.) has ever done,” he said.
The report contained 38 recommendations, which were endorsed by the committee. Chief Conn said recommendations in the report that have a price tag will come back to council in the future with individual reports for consideration.
“This is a very good report. You have done a good job to capture your advice to us for what we should do for safety in our community,” said Councillor Rob Sampson.
Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca