Given the current situation regarding our local Fire Department I feel it is necessary to provide my thoughts on the matter. I would encourage all residents to read the report as provided on the Town website by clicking here. In response to the letter distributed to all homes by the Town and signed by the Mayor I will submit the following response:
Dear Mayor Kennedy,
I read with great interest your recent letter regarding the possibility of dissolving our community Fire Department, and contracting the St. John's Regional Fire Department to provide our emergency response service. I have read the original February report and the updated letter from the consultants and I feel that the report provides insufficient evidence to dissolve our Fire Department. Let me say that I respect the Town Council's commitment to the safety of all of our residents, and no matter the outcome safety must remain the priority. However it is my feeling that contracting our emergency response service is not the correct decision at this time.
Upon my initial reading of the February report I found a number of instances where the level of detail was lacking. The options explored are far too limited to include all the possible options for our emergency response service. The best example of this limitation is with regard to the possibility of a composite Department that could be constituted of both paid staff and volunteers. Unfortunately the report only examines the costing around a fully paid Department with six full time and one relief staff for daytime operations. Surely there must be options that include a truly composite department that includes a couple of paid staff backed up by a sufficient volunteer force? Yet this option is not adequately discussed.
As the main issue of concern is with regard to the number of responders to emergency calls, it is imperative that we have a system in place that ensures an appropriate response for every event. The Fire Department has been constantly recruiting members over the last number of months and I understand that they are now approaching 30 volunteers. Of course new recruits need appropriate training but these numbers are a great step toward ensuring our Department is not just meeting but exceeding the established standards. With proper organization and responsibility schedules this strong pool of recruits would be up to the task of protecting our community. If then, we were to consider the addition of one or two full time paid staff, I have very little doubt our Department would be among the top Fire Departments in the Province.
Saving our Fire Department will require effort, planning, recruitment and perhaps even more money but in the end I believe it is the best option available to our Town. Like many small communities our Department provides more then just emergency services. They are part of our community, and certainly worth the effort to preserve. I also have some concerns about a contracted service in the event of a major catastrophe where their service may also be required elsewhere. Would their priority not lie with their home community?
I appreciate the Council's attempt to engage residents in this important decision but I fear that the timing is all wrong. Your letter should have come following the initial report so that we as a community could have assessed the situation over the past few months, and not simply in the week before such an important decision is to be made. Some of the current Councillors will not have to face the potential repercussions of such a decision that could be made one day prior to selecting a new Town Council.
In light of all these reasons I respectfully request that this decision be removed from the table or at least deferred for the Council who will actually have to implement the decision.