Interim full-time firefighter to be hired

After weeks of appealing to town council to reverse its decision not to fill a full-time position left vacant by a retirement in March, the local volunteer firefighting brigade finally got its way Monday, sort of.
With about a dozen volunteers on hand, council announced at Monday night’s regular meeting that the town will move to fill the spot—but on an interim basis only.
The long-term plan—to reduce the full-time complement to eight—remains in effect, said Mayor Dan Onichuk, who read from a prepared statement.
“This temporary replacement will allow the fire chief and staff to solidify our implementation strategy, and also allow for more consultation with the volunteers and the full-time alike to determine the best way to attain our goal of reaching a staffing level of eight,” Mayor Onichuk said.
“We realize that the change is difficult,” he added. “These tough decisions are necessary if we want to continue to provide prudent management of the services this municipality offers.”
In a closed-door session two weeks ago, members of the volunteer brigade met with councillors to voice their concerns about how the staffing cuts might impact their roles on the emergency response team.
They had hoped those concerns would be addressed Monday night, but left the Civic Centre largely unsatisfied.
Shortly after the meeting adjourned, the volunteers stood in unity behind spokesperson Paul Danku and issued a statement of their own.
“We were glad to hear that council decided to fill the vacancy . . . however, the hiring of an interim firefighter is a temporary fix to our long-term concerns about the fire and rescue services,” Danku said.
Prior to announcing that an interim firefighter would be hired on, council defeated a resolution to “reconsider” its long-term plans for fire hall staffing.
A majority “yes” vote would have opened the door for council to scrap its directive to reduce the full-time complement, but only Couns. Struchan Gilson and Roy Avis voted in favour.
Couns. Tannis Drysdale, Todd Hamilton, and Rick Wiedenhoeft opposed the move. Coun. Neil Kabel was not in attendance.
In a release, Fire Chief Steve Richardson assured the public that reducing the full-time complement at the fire hall would not compromise the level of service provided.
“Public safety continues to be paramount,” he stressed. “Citizens can be confident that the Fort Frances Fire Department remains one of the best fire services in the area.”
When reached Tuesday morning, Chief Richardson said the interim firefighting position could be posted as early as Tuesday afternoon. It will be posted internally at first, meaning current members of the volunteer brigade will have the first crack at the job.
Richardson also noted the length of the interim position has “yet to be decided.”
Also at Monday night’s meeting, town council passed the proposed water and sewer rates, triggering a 10 percent increase that will be applied to property owners in both the residential and commercial sectors.
The rate hike, which is retroactive to July 1, will be applied to the next bill.
As well, council directed administration to plan a community summit—similar to one held three weeks ago in Dryden—to address the crisis in the forest industry.
Coun. Drysdale, who made the recommendation, had received a request from the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) that Fort Frances explore the possibility of organizing such an event.
In other business Monday night, council:
•approved the re-zoning of 306 Victoria Ave. from “general commercial” to “residential type three” after nobody approached the mic to speak either in favour of or against the proposal during a public hearing on the matter;
•agreed to a request from Coun. Avis to look into the possibility of allowing non-resident contractors to apply for an annual work permit, instead of having to apply for a new permit for each job;
•voted in favour of making an application for COMRIF funding to help pay for the Portage Ave. underpass upgrades; and
•turned down an application for a municipal taxi licence.