Sparks fly over possible fire hall cuts

An ongoing comprehensive review of Fire and Rescue Services in the Town of Fort Frances, for purposes of possibly making cuts in that area, evoked strong feelings from the packed Civic Centre during a public budget meeting there last night.
Full-time firefighter Frank Sheppard, on behalf of the Fort Frances Professional Fire Fighters Association, said he had heard rumours the firefighters were under review for some time.
“But it wasn’t until I saw it on the screen tonight that I’d actually seen there is an ongoing review into the potential service reduction to our fire and rescue services,” he said to Mayor Dan Onichuk and Couns.
Roy Avis, Tannis Drysdale, Neil Kabel, and Rick Wiedenhoeft.
“A couple emotions arose from that—one of them’s anger and the other one’s a little bit of disappointment,” added Sheppard, noting he’d previously spoken to councillors on an individual basis to inform them he’d appreciate being able to speak to them if a reduction in services was ever a possibility.
“With that in mind, it’s been great to have opportunity to serve the Town of Fort Frances for 18 years. I would’ve hoped if there was a possibility of reducing services, you would’ve gotten in touch with us.
“There are opportunities to create efficiencies,” said Sheppard.
Sheppard warned insurance costs could rise for the town if it has a smaller complement of firefighters than it does now, and council should consider that in any service reduction decisions.
He also stressed that as of this year, some 80,000 tanker cars come across the Ranier Bridge every year carrying hazardous materials, and that the responsibility of firefighters these days goes far beyond just house fires.
“I’m not suggesting to you there aren’t savings opportunities,” said Sheppard.
“I’m just asking that possibly you would have the consideration to speak to the people who will offer you an honest and forthright opinion, and whose interest is in the welfare of the community.”^Local teachers Sharon Preston and Andrew Hallikas also voiced their support of maintaining fire services (as well as police services) at their current level.
Preston noted council should remember the fire department offers “capable, professional service” and “quick service,” and not only attends house fires but grass fires and industrial accident scenes, too.
Hallikas added the fire department also responds to medical emergencies and motor vehicle accidents, and is trained to use the “Jaws of Life” and deliver emergency first-aid if firefighters arrive on the scene before paramedics.
They also promote fire prevention and teach safety in schools.
Hallikas said it also is essential the OPP maintain its level of service as they not only enforce the law, but bring educational programs to schools and promote safety in general to the public.
“We owe these hard-working men and women a real debt of gratitude. We must never take them for granted,” Hallikas stressed, referring to both the fire and police departments.
He added the level of essential services in the town “should not fluctuate with the economy” and that council should not assume the “excellent level of service would continue if cuts are made.”^Several other residents also spoke up and agreed that maintaining fire services as they are is crucial.
The meeting also included presentations from Gary Rogozinski, first vice-president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, Linda Wall of the Fort Frances Children’s Complex Advisory Committee, and Donald Taylor of the Cyclone Swim Club, as well as comments from a handful of other local residents.
Darryl Allan, the town’s manager of Information Technology, also gave a Power Point presentation describing the current revenues and expenditures of Fort Frances.
Mayor Onichuk thanked all those who came out to the meeting and noted the budget process was not over. He said council and management now would take the public’s input offered last night into consideration as they continue to discuss the budget.
Those who still want to tell the town what they think can do so by contacting council via e-mail at town@fort-frances.com or by fax at 274-8479.