East Ferris looking to pump more money into fire and emergency services budget

·3 min read

Retention bonuses and incremental increases for volunteers are being considered to better reward members of the East Ferris Fire and Emergency Services Department.

Council had asked Fire Chief Frank Loeffen last year to look at how the municipality’s renumeration compared to other similar-sized townships. His report presented at Tuesday’s meeting indicated there is much variety in how each department compensates its members, with East Ferris in the mid-range for volunteers and top end for officers.

Loeffen, representing the municipality’s fire and emergency services committee, recommended a $10,000 increase for 2021 to the annual points system allocation used to compensate volunteers at each call for service and training sessions. It would bring that budget up to $54,566, which is slightly above the mid-range of comparable departments, he said, suggesting it then increase three percent annually in following years.

His report also looked at the implications of moving to a “minimum wage per point” system, but said it would be “unpredictable for budgetary purposes” as calls to service and number of members responding fluctuate. As it functions now, the budget is divided up based on points with the hourly amount going up or down depending on volume of calls and training sessions.

Included in the recommendations was a two percent increase to the annual officer honourarium, bringing it to $1,081.20 for 2021. In addition, it was suggested to council that the Fire Prevention Officer be given the same officer honourarium instead of $50 per inspection.

Council warmly embraced the suggestions and several members recommended two options to recognize longer service.

Deputy Mayor Steve Trahan suggested that senior volunteers be given an extra point or two to reflect the skills and experience they provide at fire scenes and collisions.

“They are asked to do extra roles … (we) lean on them a little heavier compared to someone newer,” Trahan said.

Councillor Rick Champagne said he's interested in a system that works as an “incentive for people to step up and stay a little longer.

“These people do work very hard for us,” Champagne said, “I think we’re getting away fairly cheap the way we’re paying them right now.”

East Ferris currently has 26 volunteer members on its roster. Four of them are rookies less than one year of participation, six are in the one to five year's of experience, nine are in the five to 10-year bracket, two at 10-15, two 15-20 and five with more than 20 years involvement.

Councillor Terry Kelly, a long-time fire and emergency services volunteer, said he looks at that kind of thing as a “retention bonus,” noting they now get a “recognition” plaque every five years, joking the plaque grows in size the longer you are there.

Kelly suggested a $500 bonus every time a volunteer hits a five-year milestone as recognition for long-time service.

“We’ve been very fortunate with retention,” he said, “and if you look at what the fire department does not cost the taxpayer … it’s one of the best deals we have with the service they do, and quite frankly, they knowingly put themselves I harm’s way with great training.”

Last year, a report looked at running a part-time service with scheduled shifts at $20 an hour that would have doubled the budget to about $90,000.

Loeffen was asked to explore the suggestions at the committee level and cost out the “pros and cons” as well as financial impacts of both the retention and recognition of skills systems.

Mayor Pauline Rochefort thanked him for an “excellent report with lots of comparables” and she looked forward to considering the initial recommendations and new information for the budget deliberations.

Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Reporter with BayToday.ca. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca