Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac and Fire Chief Bill Cox don't see eye-to-eye over creating an Automatic (Fire) Aid Agreement with Chisholm Township. McIsaac wants it but Cox is against it because he believes the potential benefits don't outweigh the potential costs. An Automatic Aid Agreement creates a mechanism for a municipality to charge a neighbouring community when its fire department is called to a fire emergency. Powassan has this type of agreement with Nipissing Township, where Nipissing pays an annual fee plus an hourly rate for Powassan's fire assets at a Nipissing fire scene. The agreement between the municipalities was created because the Nipissing Fire Department can't respond to its southern portion in a reasonable amount of time. In fact, Cox says Nipissing's volunteer firefighters would have to drive right past Powassan's two fire stations to get to a fire at their southern border. Because of Powassan's proximity to Nipissing's south side, the Automatic Aid Agreement calls for Powassan to be the first responder to fire calls in that area. Cox says Automatic Aid Agreements are different from Mutual Aid Agreements. The Office of the Fire Marshal developed the Mutual Aid Agreements. They include all 26 neighbouring municipalities. Under the Mutual Aid Agreement, Powassan or any other neighbouring community can receive or provide help in a major emergency. No community is billed for any of the fire services provided by a neighbouring municipality. But Cox notes the municipality in need of help needs to first ensure it has exhausted all its firefighting resources before it triggers the call for mutual aid. In 2021, Powassan requested mutual aid for one incident and responded to one mutual aid call. However, despite how Mutual Aid Agreements are designed to work, McIsaac said the fire chief told him Chisholm sometimes calls Powassan “immediately once they get a fire call” and before Chisholm has exhausted its firefighting resources. “So we're not acting as the backup,” McIsaac told council. “We are fighting (fires) for Chisholm Township.” McIsaac said this is not in keeping with the spirit of the Mutual Aid Agreement and “I don't think we should be another community's fire department.” McIsaac said in the last two years there have been three or four occasions when Chisholm called the Powassan Fire Department without first going through all its resources. “So if we're going to be called to the surrounding area and it's not in the spirit of the Mutual Aid Agreement, then we should be compensated for that call.” McIsaac said Chisholm is making a “big ask” when reaching out to Powassan's volunteer firefighters and its equipment without any compensation in return. South River uses a cost recovery program when it deals with fires and McIsaac has asked the fire chief to look at South River's approach to see if it can work for Powassan. Council wants the Fire Chief to get back to it with options in time for the July 19 council meeting. Councillors agreed with McIsaac over the compensation factor. Coun. Debbie Piekarski added she prefers the existing council deal with this matter before October's municipal elections rather than have the new council start over. In a report to council, Cox opposes pursuing an Automatic Aid Agreement with Chisholm because although it opens a new revenue stream for Powassan, such an agreement also binds Powassan to respond to all calls dispatched in the area the new agreement would apply to. In other words, Cox says an Automatic Aid Agreement may increase the amount of time Powassan fire personnel are outside the municipality and that means diminished fire fighting resources locally. Cox doesn't believe the extra revenue benefits taxpayers, considering the municipality is potentially reducing fire protection at the local level in addition to increasing the risk and workload on the volunteer firefighters.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget