Recently, there have been several letters to the editor concerning the reduction of full-time staff at the Fort Frances Fire Department. Certainly this financial-based decision by town council has far-reaching effects—and not limited to Fort Frances residents.
Firstly, Fort Frances taxpayers will feel the effects in many painful ways. With the tiered response system, the Fort Frances Fire Department often is the first emergency responder on the scene as ambulances are busy elsewhere.
These first responders deal with fall injuries, respiratory problems, strokes, and attacks until EMS arrives.
The department attends roughly 500 such calls a year. But this system may well be history with staffing reduction.
At times, there only will be one firefighter at the fire hall. If he is out on a call and another call were to come in, off-duty firefighters would respond to the fire hall from home to gather up their gear and fire trucks.
Compare this to today’s system, where they respond directly from the hall and often are on scene in two minutes.
With house fires, fire doubles every 30 seconds. Consider what a five-minute delayed response would do. To people trapped in a car wreck, every minute seems like a lifetime.
The town hopes to fill this gap of full-time staff with volunteers. These volunteers may well be the first to the fire hall on a call-out. They must be licensed to drive the fire apparatus. For DZ licensing, all will require a medical ($140 each), education materials, a certified trainer, and road tester.
This cost easily reaches $400 apiece. For 20 volunteers, that’s $8,000.
Each volunteer also must be pumper certified. A 40-hour course for 20 volunteers at $18/hour for wages equals $14,400. Add in instructor’s fees, excluding their airfare, accommodations, and meals ($3,000), brings you up to $17,400.
Volunteers need training in auto extrication. Another huge price tag.
The Fort Frances Fire Department now does fire alarm monitoring for local businesses and institutions—for a fee. This will go by the wayside with downsizing.
Now for the effects on the other 11 municipalities/fire departments that receive fire dispatch services from Fort Frances. Each municipality is only paying $500/year (this is the Town of Fort Frances’ asking price) for this highly-competent and professional service.
There was never a request from the town for an increase in fees.
But due to reduced staffing, dispatch to district departments no longer will be done by the Fort Frances Fire Department; the only bidder for future dispatch came from Dryden Police Services.
I have no doubt they also are very competent and professional. However, with the F.F. Fire Department doing the dispatch, they know firsthand all the local roads, jurisdictions, apparatus, and people in this area.
To a volunteer fire department on a scene, it is invaluable to have access to expertise, advice, and co-operation from a full-time fire service. Fort Frances gave us this.
What is the cost for Dryden dispatch services? Each municipality, including Fort Frances, will pay a one-time capital cost for upgrades to communication equipment based on population. Then each municipality must pay a yearly operating cost or dispatch fee based on their population.
In total, all 12 affected departments will pay out $42,284 in one-time capital costs and another $65,854 per year in operating costs to the Dryden Police Service (keep in mind that each department paid only $500/year until now).
Several district clerks met with Fort Frances officials with the intention of offering increased dispatch premiums to retain the service here. The answer was given that Fort Frances is not in the dispatch business. Period. End of discussion.
I would assume most municipalities, if asked, would rather pay these increased fees directly to Fort Frances to retain dispatch than to an outside agency. Keep our money local to employ local people.
As a municipal fire chief and a local taxpayer, this situation hurts my fire department budget as well as my personal wallet. The numbers tell me that this move to eliminate some full-time staffing will not save town taxpayers money, but clearly cost money as well as lost services.
It may be time for town taxpayers to hold your politicians accountable.
Leo Pruys, Chief
La Vallee Volunteer