BENJAMIN PRIEBE The Standard
SCUGOG: The Township's fire department could see drastic changes this year, with the submission of the long-awaited Fire Organizational and Operational Review (FOOR), which began in June of 2013 and carries a price tag of $50,000.
On Monday, June 23, councillors recieved the final report from Steve Thurlow of Dillon Consulting, which may decide the future of Scugog's fire halls and those who work inside them.
Scugog's FOOR concludes with a choice of three proposed options: keeping the status quo with revisions to training for volunteer firefighters, following the 2004 Master Fire Plan's guidelines of hiring additional full time firefighters, and the option of a fully volunteer fire department.
Last week, Mariano Perini of the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office told Council that the Scugog Fire Department has made progress - gaining three full time firefighters, new SCBA gear, and an updated communications system. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
"With a large coverage area and a small department, we need to focus on education and prevention," said Thurlow. "The best way to fight a fire is to not let it happen in the first place, the public needs to take some control with Ontario Fire Code."
The report also states that Scugog's high concentration of seniors and vulnerable persons places a strong demand on public education, alarm systems, fire code compliance, and prevention.
"To handle the increased training and education, we would like to see a full time position created for adminstrative work," said Thurlow. "We need to make sure that the schedules and manuals are being filled out by the right person, so the Chief isn't stuck at his desk."
Training methods of both volunteer and fulltime staff were a fiery topic at the meeting, with Thurlow highlighting a division between both camps being trained seperately, to better fit schedules.
Ward 2 Councillor John Hancock raised the point of having all firefighters train side-by-side to promote a cohesive response during dangerous and emergency situations.
"This is not an uncommon problem in a composite department, we have an ad hoc collection of training documents and a scattered schedule," answered Thurlow. "We need to train firefighters in supervision and give them a permanent training manual to hold in their hands - but as always, there's a monetary cost involved."
Thurlow further explained the gaps in training and record keeping which are prevalent in Scugog's fire halls, stating that "we meet minimum legislation, but if a Ministry of Health and Safety audit were to be carried out - we would likely be in trouble."
One of the most important areas of increased training outlined in the report is live-fire excercises, which teach firefighters how to respond in dangerous situations which they may not face regularily. Since structure fires have been in decline in recent years, skills need to be tested and kept sharp.
"Historically, we've been able to set controlled fires in a vacant house, but the province is beginning to frown on that," said Thurlow. "We need to access the facilities at the Ontario Fire College, or Oshawa's live fire course."
Dillon's report concludes with the aforementioned options, and an immediate suggestion to hire a handful of volunteer who are specifically available during working hours - for a total of 35 volunteers in both Port Perry and Caesarea.
"Historically, everyone used to work locally and could leave work for a call - nowadays, everyone commutes and we're left with very few responders during weekdays," said Thurlow.
With a list of options and areas to improve, and a list of suggestions already completed - the quick resolution which Mayor Chuck Mercier hoped for seems out of reach for Scugog's current Council.
"This has been a long and drawn out process, and if you ask anyone who's involved, the firefighters just want it dealt with, so they can offer input and move forward," said Mayor Merceir. "Despite my pushing, we likely won't see any resolution until the end of 2014 or later - I'd love to just make a decision, but financial matters take a lot of time and consideration."
Scugog Council has decided to schedule a public meeting in the fall of 2014, to gather public input and relay further information before making a final decision.
The pending municipal election and a possible influx of new councillors and staff members may lengthen the project's timeline, as education and updating measures will have to be taken.