Firefighters to speak out on staffing cut

Town council will hear from local firefighters this evening as to their reaction to the decision made two weeks ago to reduce the full-time complement at the Fort Frances Fire Department by one.
Both Frank Sheppard, president of the Fort Frances Professional Fire Fighters Association, and Kayne Shaw, with the Fort Frances Volunteer Fire Brigade, are on the agenda to speak to council on the issue, which has stirred up much discussion over the past two weeks.
At its May 9 meeting, council voted 6-1 in favour of reducing the full-time complement at the fire hall from 10 to nine by eliminating a position that had been vacant since the retirement of veteran firefighter William “Hugh” McKinnon back in March.
But any discussion prior to the decision to eliminate the full-time position only took place in-camera (behind closed doors) during that meeting.
Claiming council’s decision was made without any input from the firefighters nor the public in general, local firefighters have since circulated a petition, taken an ad out in the Fort Frances Times, and spoken out in two Times’ articles regarding the issue.
“I don’t see any valid reason for reducing numbers,” Sheppard had told the Times back on May 10. “It’s an issue of having enough people to be able to ensure what you do you are doing safely and efficiently.”
But in last week’s Times, Mayor Dan Onichuk said town council decided to reduce the full-time complement with the aim to bolster the ranks with more volunteers firefighters.
“I would much prefer, as mayor and as a citizen, to have five more volunteers than one full-time [firefighter] because then there are five more people at a fire,” he remarked.
“More bodies is more advantageous.”
While Mayor Onichuk noted it’s possible for council to “revisit” any decisions it has made in the past, he said they didn’t rush the decision to reduce full-time fire hall staffing and increase the volunteer complement.
“This isn’t a decision that was made in the last week or so. This was a decision that was made a year-and-a-half ago [during 2004 budget deliberations],” he remarked, stressing the position was eliminated through attrition so no jobs were lost.
Sheppard and Shaw are expected to address council shortly after 7 p.m., following an activities update from Geoff Gillon, economic development officer with the Rainy River Future Development Corp.
The fire brigade has requested the public attend tonight’s meeting and show their support.
Tonight’s council meeting (delayed one day due to the Victoria Day holiday) starts at 7 p.m. It will be preceded by a committee of the whole meeting from 5:30-6:45 p.m.
And at 6:45 p.m., there will be a brief public meeting regarding zoning bylaw amendment application 8/98-X (507 Armit Ave.)
Shaw Cable Channel 10 will not be covering this meeting because staff are away on training.
Other business at tonight’s meeting will include:
•a bylaw to authorize an agreement with the Kiwanis Club of Fort Frances Inc. for the purposes of building the skate park;
•a bylaw to approve a licence agreement with Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) with respect to the use of voter information;
•a bylaw to authorize the entering into of an agreement with SwiftCash Corp. with respect to the location and operation of an ATM at the Memorial Sports Centre;
•a bylaw to de-register Lots 12 and 13, Plan 48M-339 (302 and 304 Kirsti Place);
•a bylaw to amend Zoning Bylaw #8/98 (507 Armit Ave.);
•a bylaw to authorize the levying and collection of a special charge of taxes upon the local Business Improvement Association;
•a request from J.W. Walker School for consideration regarding school traffic safety issues;
•a request from the “Fun in the Sun” committee regarding insurance coverage for “Fun in the Sun” activities; and
•a request from the Khartum Shriners regarding purchasing advertising in the Khartum Khronicle Special Centennial Edition.