CBRM firefighters union calls for action on four-year-old report

·3 min read

The union representing Cape Breton Regional Municipality's career firefighters says a recent spat with a volunteer department has highlighted the need to implement a consultant's report from 2016 that recommended centralizing control over fire calls and amalgamating some rural departments.

"In our opinion, it's been taking too long," said Dave McLaughlin, president of International Association of Firefighters in Sydney. "This stuff should have been done back in 1995, when the municipality amalgamated."

Unionized firefighters recently responded to a couple of calls in the Mira Road volunteer department's area just outside Sydney.

That sparked a memo from administration to the union reminding firefighters of a longstanding mutual aid agreement that says Sydney is only to respond to calls in Mira Road's area if the department requests it.

"The problem with that being that sometimes that request for response could be delayed by several minutes," said McLaughlin.

It's also difficult to listen to a dispatch call knowing the career firefighters are on standby and could head out immediately, he said.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

McLaughlin said under other mutual aid agreements, Sydney firefighters can automatically respond to calls in the South Bar and Grand Lake Road areas.

In Sydney River, Sydney firefighters can automatically respond to fire calls and discussions are ongoing when it comes to motor vehicle or major industrial accidents, he said.

If CBRM had a truly regional fire service, it would not need a patchwork of mutual aid agreements among its member departments, McLaughlin said.

If the Manitou Inc. consultant's report from four years ago had been implemented, there would be no territorial disputes, he said.

Mutual frustration

The Manitou report, as it came to be known, contained 22 specific recommendations, but the main ones were to create a bylaw or regulation giving administration control over all the departments, set service standards and integrate all departments, including reducing the number of departments and fire halls.

"The inability to move forward collectively on decisions is mutually frustrating and encourages individual departments to withdraw from trying to solve problems collectively," the report said.

"It's easier to revert to responding to their department's interests rather than engaging in the give-and-take of moving the system forward as a whole. Parochial interests must give way to the common good."

The report said a number of steps would have to be taken first, including collecting data and documenting standards and service levels.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

CBRM's director of regional fire and emergency service, Michael Seth, said he has spent the last year since he was hired getting to know the various departments and trying to understand the implications of the Manitou report.

"I've reviewed a lot of things and gotten right into the weeds of who does what and who's responsible for what," he said.

Seth said CBRM's existing Fire and Emergency Service Registration policy already allows the regional fire service to exert control over all 32 departments.

The policy says registered departments are required to conform to regional guidelines and procedures.

He said administration is now gathering data that will be used to set service standards for the volunteer and career fire stations.

"What we're trying to do is put in the evidentiary data so that we can start setting these deployment plans, not only for Mira Road but throughout all of CBRM," said Seth.

The newly elected council will be asked to provide direction on that in the near future, he said.