Cost savings from amalgamating fire departments are a guessing game, not a guarantee, says chief

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Consultant report made 9 recommendations for more efficient fire services, most already in place in Collingwood, others just don’t make sense according to staff report

In a list of nine recommendations for changes to the Simcoe County Fire Department, most are already in place or do not apply to Collingwood, according to the fire chief.

A Pomax Consulting Inc. report commissioned by Simcoe County and released in December suggested consolidating some or all of the services provided by fire departments to create a more efficient system. Although the consultant’s report admitted to receiving little information or data to make “apple to apple” comparisons between departments. Still, Pomax claimed its recommendations would save $400,000 in operating costs in one year and help avoid $20 million in capital expenditures by 2031.

Among the recommendations included in the review was the consolidation of fire departments where possible.

According to Collingwood Fire Chief Ross Parr, the consolidation just doesn’t make sense for the local service.

“Consolidating fire departments in Simcoe County would be a significant undertaking and, without the available data to support it, it would simply be guesswork as to whether it would be a profitable undertaking,” Parr said in a report. submitted to the council. this month.

He added the example of other municipal fire departments that have explored service consolidation and ended up retaining their own service.

“Not all Simcoe County Fire Departments have the same levels of staff, and not all boards have run the same level of service,” Parr said. “Simcoe County is made up of full-time, blended and volunteer fire departments, each providing a different level of service.

Collingwood employs both full-time and volunteer firefighters and responds to both fire and medical calls on multiple levels. The department also has full-time staff for fire prevention and inspection.

Parr’s report says city staff see no efficiencies or benefits for Collingwood in consolidating with another fire department.

He did, however, see merit in the consultant’s recommendation to share a fire chief between departments.

Parr said there would need to be “chief officers” in place in each city department to assist the fire chief with day-to-day operations.

While the consultant’s report stated that a deputy chief would not be needed, Parr’s report disputed this, stating that the legislative and administrative functions of each municipality would require a deputy chief in each department.

To consider a shared fire chief, Parr said, would require a clearly defined reporting structure and expectations, as well as adequate human resources to carry out the task of managing more than one fire department.

Many of the recommendations made in the Pomax report, according to the chief, are already in place for the Collingwood Fire Department.

One recommendation was that municipalities contract services from neighboring municipal fire departments when possible in border areas or for larger fires.

The Collingwood Fire Department has Mutual Aid and/or Response Agreements with other area departments, including Clearview, Wasaga Beach and The Blue Mountains, allowing them to request assistance in the event of fire and also to help the other services in case of fire in their municipalities. The agreement is negotiated every four to five years and the municipality where the fire occurs is billed for any outside intervention by the fire department. The Collingwood Department is also part of the Simcoe County Fire Mutual Aid Agreement.

The consultant’s review also suggested that municipalities should obtain fire service data and information to answer the question, “why do we do what we do”.

Chief Parr’s report noted that Collingwood Fire collects and reports data through a local system (no county involvement), which is then used to organize public education and prevention campaigns and initiatives to mitigate d other incidents and create efficiencies.

Another recommendation from the review suggested that municipalities conduct a comprehensive needs analysis with response modeling and incident type before constructing a new fire station.

The review suggested that fires in an area could help justify a new fire station, but sometimes medical incidents are also used to justify a new fire station. The report says fires are becoming less frequent and medical calls may follow the same downward trend.

Collingwood has a fire station on the west side of town (High and Third Street).

Parr said construction of a second fire station in Collingwood would depend on growth in the city’s east end.

“The fire department is an incident response service and at no time was the fire or medical response focused solely on the need for a fire station,” Parr said in his report. “Most importantly, other factors that have been and will continue to be considered include response times, demographics, availability of firefighters to respond, growth and modernization, service needs fire, the location of the stations in relation to the arteries and the centralization in the intervention basin. region.”

Parr added that a decrease in fires and medical responses would not eliminate the need for new fire stations in areas of growth.

The consultant’s review also recommended a collaborative approach to training firefighters who work in county departments, which Parr said is already happening.

Innisfil already has a regional training center certified by the Ontario Fire Marshal, and Barrie Fire has announced that it will open a training center. The Collingwood Fire Department has already determined that these two options provide an effective, affordable and effective choice as a modern training facility.

Staff’s recommendation was that council receive Parr’s report and that Collingwood Fire and Emergency Services continue with their current delivery model. The recommendation was unanimously endorsed by the Business and Community Standing Committee and will be submitted to the Board for final approval on March 21.

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