By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The city is set to revamp its fire master plan six years after first implementing the document.
Council gave the go-ahead to hire a consultant to prepare an updated plan over the next year at a cost of $160,000.
The new plan will include a community risk assessment.
The current document originally passed in 2013 and was intended to run through 2023.
Last summer, Fire Chief Derrick Clark delivered his five-year review of the plan. The chief’s investigation stated 27 of the 31 recommendations within the plan were either complete or in progress. Nonetheless, it was met with a mixed reaction.
Council later rejected a staff recommendation to have Clark’s assessment peer-reviewed by Dillon Consultants, the company which developed the plan.
Several factors were identified in the need for a revamped plan, specifically, higher city growth than anticipated.
Increased development of high-rise buildings and senior retirement homes were recognized as well.
However, several councillors refused the notion the city wasn’t expecting the growth.
“I guess when this was first done they didn’t realize the 407 was coming through,” said Ward 5 city councillor John Gray. “I want to make sure we build in something that includes high growth to small growth.”
Council approved Gray’s amendment to have the plan consider all levels of growth over the next 10 years.
Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey couldn’t believe “anyone would say the growth was unexpected.”
However, Ward 4 regional councillor Rick Kerr, who was around for the first plan, said growth was considered, but some things have happened unexpectedly.
In the past five years, Kerr says the west end of Toronto has been “tapped out” of developable land, prompting investors to gaze eastward.
“That’s one thing that has completely driven a lot of growth in this area,” he said.
Ward 2 regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri said it is unfortunate the city has to revisit the plan so quickly.
He said the redo needs to truly outline fire services over the next decade.
“I look forward to seeing a consultant that embraces not just the report for the sake of the report, but providing valuable input,” Marimpietri said.
McConkey and her regional counterpart John Neal were the most outspoken critics of the plan.
“I truly believe we’ve done enough studies. We’ve been told so many times where the growth is,” McConkey said, noting that $160,000 would pay for two new firefighters.
“We have to be more proactive and address the issues of safety and overtime,” she added.
Neal said he is tired of the city hiring consultants to tell them information he believes city staff already has.
Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson supported reviewing the plan but criticized the current state of fire services in Oshawa. He said response times need to improve.
“We need to make sure we have the capability to respond to fire events in the city with a far better approach than we have currently,” Nicholson said.
Notably, he thinks there are specifically large gaps in response time in south Oshawa, and “that simply is unacceptable.”
He also noted the amount of suppression firefighters has declined since 2013, despite “the fact growth in the city has skyrocketed in the last 10 to 15 years.”
Lastly, the veteran councillor said the city needs to revamp how it finances its fire service.
He said neighbouring municipalities should be charged a full-service rate when trucks from Oshawa respond out of the city, and the Ministry of Transportation should “pay their fair share” for assistance on Highways 401 and 407.
Hearing from the union
After the release of Clark’s five-year review last summer, the union representing Oshawa firefighters came forward with a number of concerns.
Peter Dyson, president of the Oshawa Professional Fire Fighters Association, claimed Oshawa’s fire service was lacking resources and staff, especially in the downtown core.
The OPFFA offered to work with the city to develop a community risk assessment with the help of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). However, the offer was turned down.
Dyson was later told by the city’s clerks department that he could not appear as a delegate at either a committee of council or council meetings.
City clerk Andrew Brouwer stated under city council’s procedural bylaw, Dyson’s concerns fell into a category similar to labour relations, which prohibits him from addressing them to council. This belief was later supported by council.
However, it appears that opinion has changed.
Gray said in the past council would often hear from the union on fire service issues.
“Sometimes there’d be disagreement, sometimes the issues brought forward were very valid,” he recalled.
The former mayor “fundamentally” disagrees with not allowing Dyson to speak.
Marimpietri said while the decision made by the clerk’s office was technically correct under the procedural by-law, he also desired to hear the union’s opinion.
“They are the front line. Being the front line I would certainly expect they would tell us like it is,” he said.
Nicholson put forth a motion requesting certain sections of the procedural by-law be waived to allow Dyson to speak.
However, Mayor Dan Carter ruled this motion was out of order.
Nicholson immediately challenged Carter’s ruling.
The majority of council agreed, with only Carter, Ward 3 city councillor Bradley Marks, Ward 3 regional councillor Bob Chapman and Kerr supporting the mayor’s ruling.
Council then voted whether to waive the rules of the by-law, but it did not receive the required two-thirds support, leading Nicholson to verbally lash out.
While he acknowledged he felt the clerk was working within the rules, Nicholson said he was astounded by what had happened.
“I’ve never seen in all on my time on council, so much energy, effort, expense and staff and legal time, simply to stop a citizen from speaking to council for five minutes,” he said.
He accused the previous council of “changing the rules” to stop Dyson from speaking.
“Democracy fails because the rules tie us in knots. We need to revamp the rules,” he continued. “I don’t know what we’re afraid of as a council, I don’t know why we’re afraid to hear from Mr. Dyson.”
Council received a letter from the union’s legal representation stating the decision not to allow Dyson to speak is unlawful as it is not labour-related.
However, Chapman questioned if this is true, why the union’s lawyer would state “it violates their contract.”
Earlier at a community services meeting, Carter said all members of council had heard the concerns of the firefighters.
“I don’t know one member on council who hasn’t heard from the firefighters. Every member met with the firefighters association and its members to make sure they have a clear indication of what their concerns are,” Carter noted. “We’ve seen the tweets, we’ve seen the social media. It’s a dialogue that has been going on for a long time.”
Dyson shared his disappointment that he will still be unable to speak at meetings.
“A majority of councillors expressed they want to hear from the firefighters,” he said. “The four that voted against the firefighters to speak, I ask what are they afraid of? What is it the association is going to say that they are so afraid of?”
He pointed out that if he was able to speak “it’s just information.”
“They can just not listen to us. They don’t have to take this information.”
The OPFFA’s community risk assessment was released in October but has never been formally presented to council.
The IAFF states that Oshawa Fire Service is able to respond with a suppression apparatus to 66.7 per cent of roads in the city within four minutes. In comparison, the National Fire Protection Association standards state services should be able to respond within four minutes 90 per cent of the time, and the OFS response time was six minutes nine out of 10 times.
The report indicates OFS is only able to deploy the NFPA minimum of 14 firefighters and one command officer to a low-hazard structure fire 53 per cent of the time.
The NFPA states these requirements should be met at a 90 per cent success rate.
The IAFF report calls on the city to add more staff and equipment, namely at Station 1, the city’s downtown headquarters.
Council directed staff to ensure the new master plan equally considers the findings in the IAFF report.
Despite this, Dyson says he still believes “staff and management is still trying to stonewall us.”
He isn’t particularly pleased the new fire master plan is likely almost a year away, and said, “That doesn’t mean that we can hold off on improving safety for firefighters and the public.”
“I think the city needs to get on with improving the level we are looking for in public safety,” he continued.
Diskey told The Oshawa Express staff is already working on the terms of reference for the plan.
He hopes a consultant will be selected by the early-spring and estimates the new fire master plan will be complete by the end of 2019 or early-2020.
Diskey also said there will be public consultation on the new plan, but it is too early to pin down what avenues the city will use to get feedback.