Back Door Decision

Fait accompli. The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a thing that is already done and not reversible.”
Oh, Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, for one, won’t say the proposed restructuring of the fire hall here that was unveiled at Monday night’s council meeting is a done deal. In fact, CAO Bill Naturkach went out of his way to stress this is just a “proposal.”
But with as many as five full-time firefighters expected to take advantage of an early retirement package by tomorrow’s deadline, with the stipulation that they cannot be replaced, the town in essence has dictated that more part-time firefighters will be needed to fill the void.
In other words, the makeup of our composite fire department will tip towards the part-time side without town residents having a say in the matter. As in no ifs, ands or buts. No turning back.
And that is a fait accompli.
More troubling about this whole issue, though, is the nagging feeling that no one in charge has thought this one through. It’s true the town doesn’t know exactly how many firefighters will take early retirement until tomorrow. And yes, the town faces getting less money from the province while Bill 84 does require an increased emphasis on fire prevention and education.
And yes, other communities do get by with a part-time department.
But pointed questions about response time, dispatch, and the ability of part-timers to commit to being on call one week out of every four or five due to their regular jobs were brushed aside with an almost cavalier wave of the hand as “minor” details to be worked out.
That’s downright scary, as is the prospect that future part-time firefighters could be hired because of where they work, not based on their ability or qualifications.
At the same time, no one is able to say whether this overhaul will end up saving money in the end. And even if it does, some warn the few bucks saved by taxpayers with the change may be offset by a jump in home insurance costs.
Another question that hasn’t been asked yet is what happens down the road when the remaining full-time firefighters are ready to retire. Will they be replaced, or will this provide a convenient opportunity to convert our fire department to a part-time one altogether?
Public safety at the expense of a few dollars is at the root of this debate. And yet, given the seriousness of the situation, it’s galling that town residents have to sit on the sidelines and accept such a major change in local fire protection that’s been set in motion by a decision to give eligible town employees the ol’ golden handshake.
Unless, of course, getting rid of our full-time fire department status by way of the back door was the plan all along. After all, I don’t recall anyone hanging their hat on that platform during last year’s municipal election campaign.
But now I’m just being cynical, right?

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