Fire chief still dealing with fallout from controversial fire optimization plan

Amid persistent accusations that volunteer firefighter recruitment is being suppressed, Greater Sudbury Fire Chief Trevor Bain has agreed to appear at the Beaver Lake Fire station to answer questions.

The state of the Walden-area station has been a regular issue for Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, who submitted five questions on the state of Beaver Lake to city Auditor General Ron Foster last spring.

Foster answered the questions in a formal report presented at Tuesday’s city council meeting. You can read them here.

The questions included whether or not volunteers receive the required training (yes), whether career firefighters were being called first to fires instead of volunteers (no evidence of that, but the slow response time at volunteer stations was a concern) and why recruitment of volunteers been so unsuccessful (changing demographics and challenges of finding qualified recruits in certain areas.)

Vagnini had more questions Tuesday. 

“These are questions that should be able to be answered at this meeting,” he said. “Chief Bain, are you comfortable answering these questions?”

“I don’t know what the questions are,” Bain replied, adding that Vagnini could ask them and he’d see if he could get the responses.

Vagnini asked why there are only three volunteers at Beaver Lake, when there should be 13.

Bain said he would need time to review the situation there, but added, “in my time here, I know the numbers have been low and we’ve tried to hire more.”

Vagnini then asked how many applications came from Beaver Lake during the last recruitment drive, and how many were rejected. Bain deferred to Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Jesse Oshell, who said there were eight applications, two of which made it to the next stage, but failed to pass.

Vagnini then said there were no problems recruiting before 2015 in Beaver Lake, and asked what happened?

Bain said overall, in 2007, there were 200 volunteers in Greater Sudbury, now there’s around 300. But he said if he could get a list of questions, he would arrange to meet with residents in Beaver Lake directly.

“That might be more helpful,” he said.

“That would be great,” Vagnini replied.

Firefighting in Sudbury has become controversial since last spring, when Bain led a series of public input sessions outlining the costs of equalizing fire response times across the city.

The plan was not only expensive, it also reduced the reliance on volunteers and called for hiring more career firefighters. There is simply no way volunteers can respond as fast as full-time firefighters, Bain said at the time, because they are at work or at home when they are called.

But the plan, which was rejected as too expensive by city council, led to suspicions by volunteers and their supporters that the city was trying to eliminate them in favour of career firefighters.

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