Mayor says council has responded to OFM
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Deep River council discusses their response to a letter from the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office during their regular session on Nov. 15.
DEEP RIVER – Joan Lougheed has fired back at the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office saying council has responded to concerns they have raised over reductions in staffing at the town's fire department.
This past summer, the department of nine full-time firefighters was reduced after two members retired. Others took sick leave or didn't have their contracts extended bringing the station down to the current complement of four. As the smallest community in Ontario with full-time firefighters, Deep River maintains a department at a cost of $1.5 million annually.
The shortage means there's no firefighter on duty evenings and weekends. The town bylaw states there must be at least eight fire staff employed at all times. Assistant deputy fire marshal Art Booth sent a letter to council in August raising his concerns about the town's department having to rely on mutual aid support from neighbouring Laurentian Hills.
Booth sent another letter last week saying he had not received a reply. However, Lougheed told council during their regular meeting Wednesday night that she had replied to Booth on Aug. 17 indicating that the fire chief at the time, Rob Shaw, had opened up the lines of communication with the Fire Marshal's Office and was working closely with them.
“To see this most recent letter is not an appropriate letter and it does not acknowledge the correspondence that was received,” said Lougheed.
Shaw had resigned at the end of September leaving the chief's position vacant. Council has defended the decision to reduce the fire service, saying the municipality of 4,000 people simply can't afford to operate a fire department with nine full-time firefighters. According to the town, ratepayers shell out about $830 per household for fire protection services. The mayor said she is willing to go to Toronto to discuss the matter with Marie-France Lalonde, minister of community safety and correctional services.
“We deal with the policy and procedure level of things and that we were quite prepared to meet with Minister Lalonde and discuss this matter in great detail for her benefit,” she said.
Council emerged from a closed meeting earlier in the evening to announce firefighter arbitration hearings would be held at the town hall beginning Nov. 30. Some residents have questioned how the department will be able to respond to a structure fire with the standard requirement of at least 16 firefighters at a scene of that magnitude. To respond to such an emergency now will require mutual aid assistance. Lougheed repeated that the council will continue to communicate with the Ontario Fire Marshal and do their due diligence when it comes to ensuring public safety.
“We take very seriously that our firefighters are safe when they are working and we take very seriously that we work closely with the citizens of this community and their safety is upper most in our minds,” said the mayor.
Larry Dumoulin, a resident and council critic, has also filed a code of conduct complaint with the town's integrity commissioner Guy Giorno alleging that Lougheed made false statements during a recent CBC Radio interview.