Volunteer firefighters fuming over new duties

Frustrated by the lack of communication from town council and administration, and concerned about not being able to meet new time commitments they’re being asked to make, some volunteer firefighters once again are threatening to turn in their gear.
Four volunteers, including Bruce Roth, president of the Fort Frances Volunteer Fire Fighters, met with Fire Chief Steve Richardson and Community Services manager George Bell on Thursday morning but left the fire hall feeling their concerns still had not been addressed.
“There’s just been a growing amount of anger,” Roth said Friday morning just hours after finishing a night shift at Abitibi-Consolidated. “We’ve been snowed, we’ve been lied to. They didn’t even have the courtesy to ask if we could take [the new responsibilities] on.
“It’s our lives on the line when we answer that page. Not administration’s, not council’s, our lives,” he stressed.
Roth said council’s decision back in May not to replace a full-time firefighting position, and instead fill the void by beefing up the local volunteer brigade, has left many volunteers uncertain if they can meet the increased demands.
Under the new system, volunteers will be training every Monday (they currently train twice each month) and will be learning new skills—taking on tasks that previously had been left to members of the full-time crew.
The volunteer brigade was not involved in the decision to increase training and skill requirements, Roth said, adding the volunteers were informed of the decision at last Monday’s training session.
“We are being handed 10 times the responsibility and four to five times the time [commitment] without being consulted even once,” he remarked.
At one point during Thursday’s meeting, Roth even threatened to turn in his equipment if council did not address some of the volunteer group’s concerns by 4 p.m. on Friday.
“That was my personal deadline,” Roth said. “I wanted to hear something back.
“We’ve heard nothing back. There’s been an appalling lack of communication,” he charged.
When reached Friday morning, Roth had softened his stance and said he’d be hanging onto his gear, but not for too much longer if his concerns weren’t addressed.
“I’ve got a full-time job, I work shift work, and I’ve got two young children,” he noted. “I cannot sacrifice that much time.
“There’s nothing more that I want to do but continue to serve, but it would be impossible for me, with my circumstances. And I’m not alone.”
Roth said the fact only four members of the 20-person volunteer corps were available for Thursday’s meeting shows just how many other commitments those individuals have.
When reached Friday morning, Bell said the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to brief the volunteer corps on “training and strategies for retaining and recognition of volunteers,” but would not comment on the possibility of some members quitting.
Chief Richardson acknowledged an ultimatum had been made, but said he had the impression those volunteers had since reconsidered.
He also noted some of the concerns expressed by the volunteers could not be handled by administration, and that it would be impossible for council to deal with the issue on such short notice.
“I know some of the concerns they expressed [Thursday], those decisions can only be made by council,” he explained.
Chief Richardson said he was unsure how many volunteers were considering quitting.
“I don’t have a confirmation on how many that would take in, whether it would be the full complement or not,” he remarked.
The town currently is advertising for more volunteer firefighters. One source told the Times that no one has applied yet, but no one was available at the Civic Centre on Friday morning to say if any applications had been received yet.
The deadline for applications is Friday, July 29 at 4 p.m.

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