By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Five year-old plans for the future of Oshawa Fire Services have fallen flat, says the Oshawa Professional Fire Fighters Association, and now they’re once again echoing the call for the City of Oshawa to open their doors and provide much needed data to inform a new study of risks that exist within the city.
Approved in 2013, the Oshawa Fire Master Plan is a nearly 200-page document laying out what the future for Oshawa Fire looks like over the next 10 years, including estimated response times, new fire hall locations, along with the risks existing at the time, and recommendations for ensuring that Oshawa Fire Service can keep up with the quickly growing city.
However, according to Peter Dyson, president of OPFFA, despite the city’s claims, they are lagging behind on a number of the recommendations laid out in the document.
“The city keeps coming back and saying they’re following the master fire plan. They’re not,” he tells The Oshawa Express. “If you ask me, they’re doing the stuff in the fire plan that either saves them money, or doesn’t cost any money. Anything that includes staff or our investments, they’re not.”
Dyson also takes exception to claims made by Mayor John Henry, who noted the city has poured investments into a pair of new fire trucks and breathing apparatus equipment. However, Dyson says those items had been arranged previously under former fire chief Steve Meringer, and had been deferred for several years.
For Chief Derrick Clark, the implementation of the Fire Master Plan allowed the city to improve its response times, and the city is not only in the process of reviewing the list of recommendations in the report, but is also looking to update the plan as a whole.
“Oshawa Fire Services are currently in the process of reviewing the Fire Services Master Plan, included in the review will be performance measures and risk assessment as recommended in the Fire Master Plan and growth projections,” he says.
Clark praises the outcome from the Fire Master Plan, in particular, the shift of resources to Fire Hall 6 and the improvement it created in coverage are for the city’s fire services.
“Six fire halls are strategically located throughout the city allowing Oshawa Fire Services to better serve the whole community and improve response times through the redeployment model as set out by the Oshawa Fire Master Plan. Oshawa Fire Services strive for safe, effective and efficient operations to best meet industry standards and best practices,” Clark says.
“Oshawa Fire Services are reviewing our response times and will update Council this year as part of the Fire Services Master Plan review.”
The recent controversy surrounds the fatal Centre Street Fire on Jan. 8, which lead to the deaths of 36-year-old Lindsay Bonchek, and her two children, nine-year-old Maddie, and four-year-old Jackson. 50-year-old Steven Macdonald saved his pregnant daughter from the fire, but later died when he rushed back inside to try and save others.
Following the blaze, OPFFA commissioned a report from the International Association of Fire Fighters whose findings, released on earlier this month, determined that based on certain demographic and social factors, Oshawa’s downtown is more vulnerable to fire fatalities. The significant findings of the report determined that based on age, income levels and the number of older dwellings centered in the city’s downtown core, people are more at risk of dying in a fire.
Along with the release of the report, the OPFFA called on the city to work with them to create a new community risk assessment, which would analyze further the risks that exist across the entire city. Any determinations from such a report could be used to better inform the city’s fire service and their allocation of resources, the union says.
However, to date, the city has provided zero comment to the union, or The Oshawa Express in regards to the report or its findings.
Dyson also took issue with the mayor’s defense previously published in The Oshawa Express on March 7, where he claimed his office had been cooperating with the union and even met with Dyson the day he was voted in as president of the OPFFA on Feb. 13.
“He did meet with us, but he also told us he’d get back to us in a couple days,” Dyson says. “Since that meeting, we have heard nothing from the mayor himself.”
Now, after weeks of silence, the Oshawa Professional Fire Fighters Union is once again echoing the call for the City of Oshawa to open their doors on certain information that could help inform an updated assessment of the city, and improve emergency response resources.
In particular, the union is looking for response time information and call data over the past three years.
Dyson says two of the union’s Freedom of Information requests will mark the 30-day deadline for a city response on Thursday, March 15, and another two will reach that deadline next week.
If the city denies these requests, Dyson says they will take further action in attempts to gain the information.
“I have full support of the membership and how we’re moving forward, I can say that 100 per cent unequivocally,” Dyson says. “We want to work with him (the mayor), we want to engage, we want to figure this out and try and move forward together.”