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Council votes down review of fire chief’s work

Chief’s five-year review of fire master plan under microscope as council debates peer review process

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa city council has voted down the option of bringing in an outside consultant to take a second look at the five year review of the city’s fire master plan completed by Fire Chief Derrick Clark earlier this year.

Durham a special meeting of council on Aug. 14, a motion brought forward from staff recommended sole sourcing a peer review of Clark’s analysis of the Oshawa Fire Master Plan to Dillon Consulting for $44,000. Part of the budget would also see Dillon complete a community risk assessment for the city, a process that would analyze the city and its potential fire risks.

New regulations now mandate these assessments by completed every five years, so Oshawa will need to have such an assessment completed by July 2019.

For Chief Clark, having a peer review completed would serve as a validation of the work completed by staff.

“I’m very confident in the five year review staff have completed, this would validate the work that has been completed, and also bring us in line with the legislative requirements set out in the FPPA, with regards to community risk assessment,” he says.

However, for some councillors, the idea of having Dillon analyze an analysis of their own report, completed in 2013, didn’t seem objective.

“I think the process is flawed. If all you want to do is see whether or not you have achieved the first half of your 10 year plan, I think we agreed that you did, when we voted on it back in June,” says Councillor Gail Bates, referring to when Clark originally brought forward his five year review.

The same was said by Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who noted that any peer review completed of the report should be performed by an agency that was not involved in the original process.

“That way, new eyes can look at it from a new perspective and make sure that we’re moving forward. I don’t like the sort of circle, peer review process that is happening,” she said, adding that council should put out a tender for interested consultants to come forward.

City Manager Jag Sharma explained the advantage of having Dillon complete the analysis is that they are already familiar with the city and the document involved.

“My understanding is should we choose to go with another vendor, there would be a learning curve that they would need to go through, the efficiency is gained by the fact that Dillon Consulting completed our 10 year master plan and therefore can, for lack of better terms, hit the ground running with this review,” he said.

“This is not about hitting the ground running,” responded McQuaid-England. “This is about making sure that our safety of our residents are taken into consideration and we have the most objective viewpoints possible.”

The issue divided council down the middle with the motion eventually losing on a tie 5-5 vote with councillors McQuaid-England, Bates, John Neal, Doug Sanders and John Shields voting against, and Mayor John Henry, John Aker, Dan Carter, Nester Pidwerbecki and Rick Kerr voting in favour.

Councillor Joseph Kolodzie was absent from the meeting.

After the meeting, Mayor Henry noted that there may have been some confusion around the reasons for hiring Dillon.

“It wasn’t to review the work that Dillon had done, it was to review the substantial changes that have happened in the City of Oshawa over the last five years, especially with the great growth that we’ve had,” he said.

In terms of Dillon’s objectivity, Henry disagreed that their previous involvement may have impacted the final result.

“What the review was, was to review the work that the chief had done, it wasn’t about reviewing the plan itself, this was about taking all the information that the chief put together in a very detailed report and comparing it to where we were before,” he said.

“If we were to have brought in an outside agency to do this again they would have had to start from scratch.”

Following the motions defeat, council have now directed staff to come back as soon as possible with a process and timeline for creating a community risk assessment.

For Peter Dyson, the president of the Oshawa Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA), he says he’s surprised that this has become an issue at all. However, he says that council made the right decision in turning down the peer review.

“I think as an association we’re happy that council defeated this request. As a review of a review, it does not appear to be a wise choice for taxpayers money, especially when the person doing the review of the review is initial person,” he said.

Currently, the OPFFA is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to create a community risk assessment for Oshawa, a report similar to what the city is looking to complete. He says they expect that document to be completed next month.

“Given that our report, which will not cost the taxpayers any money, and should be completed with the next month, I think it’s prudent to wait for that, and if council and the fire chief are not happy with that information, I’m sure they can revisit it at that time,” he said.

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