There have been some concerns expressed by members of the public about the direction the North Grenville Fire Service is going. The question has been asked: are we planning for a full-time, professional service? Can our community afford such a thing? To get some answers, we talked to NG Fire Chief Paul Hutt:
Paul Hutt: To be quite honest with you, everything that we have done, and I say we, because I haven’t done it by myself, but our Council, our senior people in this Department, has done nothing but foster the volunteer aspect of our community. It boils down to the fact that these concerns show that some people are not educated to what the fire service is all about.
We did a Master Fire Plan in 2012, and we had a consultant come in to advise on this, who was independent of the service. It clearly recognised a number one priority was to get some assistance from the administration perspective, because the consultants understood that it is crazy to think one person or Chief can be working all these hours and doing all the work required by the demands of the current Service. So, we have recently hired Randy Urslak as a Deputy Chief.
It certainly has helped in the co-ordination of the day to day activities, allowing me more time to focus on Emergency Management, Bylaw Services and the overall Fire Service project. It has been extremely helpful. But, even referencing the Master Fire Plan, when you look at staffing levels, or standard of response, at no point does it recommend a full-time Service.
I also question it when people talk about us becoming a “professional” service. We are a professional Fire Service, regardless whether you are a volunteer or a full-time paid officer. All fire services, in my opinion, are professional because they are trained to the same degree and standard. But when they looked at the staffing level in 2013, it was very clear and it states right there in the data provided by North Grenville, that we are in an unusual position. We have good daytime response times, we have enough volunteer people responding to calls, so we basically decided to continue with the status quo, get some assistance from an administrative perspective with the Deputy Chief, and monitor the on-going response time as we move forward.
I can point out too that, if I was suggesting that I wanted a full time department, I wouldn’t have been working for the last four years getting Mutual Aid Agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions. We have negotiated Automatic Aid Agreements with North Dundas, Merrickville, Edwardsburg-Cardinal, and with the City of Ottawa, so if the notion were that we want to move to a full-time compliment, I would suggest there’s enough information to suggest otherwise, that we are very pleased and satisfied with our volunteer contingent and we are getting a very professional service for what we are doing. So, just in a nut shell, I have been very transparent with our council and I am extremely pleased with the commitment and dedication of our volunteers. It’s even tough to call them volunteers anymore; it’s more than a volunteer position, it’s a part-time, on-call position.
So I am extremely pleased with the dedication of our present members. Am I going to suggest in ten years that we re-visit and take a look at the situation at that point? I am not going to say: “No, we are not going to look at that”, but moving forward in the next four to five years, we are very satisfied with our currant contingent and our response time. We are satisfied with how things currently are.
NG Times: Have you had any problems attracting recruits?
Paul Hutt: I am not trying to boast, but when you meet with other chiefs and you hear about the hardships that they are having with retaining some of their volunteers, we don’t have that problem. Rarely will you see us soliciting for applications and it’s primarily because we have a backlog right now. We just hired three members to replace people retiring, or moving out of the area. Applications continue to come in and we are getting some really good candidates as part of our brigade, if you will.
I am not hiding the fact that the commitment level is to a point where people have to take it seriously when they say they want to become a part-time member of the NG Fire Service, because there is a huge time commitment. So we ask for new applicants, we sit down and have an orientation session so they can get a sense of what the commitment is, what the expectations are, before they start moving forward.
We are seeing, and this is right across the province of Ontario, even right across Canada, a lot of members, younger members, using volunteer Fire Services as stepping stones, where they want to gain some experience and move on to a full-time career. And, as long as they are willing to commit while they are here, put the time in and train, then we certainly don’t hold back as long as the person is willing to put in the necessary training.
The North Grenville Fire Service is a volunteer, professionally-trained service. That is meeting our requirements, and I see no need for that to change for some time to come.