Professional firefighters are not in the Town of Sidney budget for this year.
Council decided to take a “cautious” approach while approving its budget last week, with a 2.81 per cent increase.
They opted out of a proposed hiring plan for Sidney Volunteer Fire Department.
“The challenge was the fire service,” said Mayor Larry Cross. “We looked at that and the implications long-term are significant.”
The plan called for the hiring of four full time firefighters, over a four year period, to augment Sidney’s volunteer ranks.
“Council felt that for the larger interests of the community we had to move very cautiously on this, so we’re taking a cautious approach and constant monitoring,” Cross said.
The department is healthy now, with a roster of 37, he pointed out.
“I think that the volunteers give us outstanding service. They’re doing a marvellous job for the town,” Cross said.
“Our numbers are not that bad right at the moment. But we had an influx of people here a year ago,” agreed fire chief Jim Tweedhope. “We’re certainly not getting as many people wanting to be members as 10 years ago.”
Instead the town invested $10,000 in exploring how to creatively reach new volunteers, for example encouraging women to join the fire service.
“We really needed to explore the opportunities to expand our volunteers service,” said Cross. “Our sense is that half the population at least is available there, and we only have two or three [women] now on a roster of 37.”
“We’ve got some ideas and we’ll certainly look at those and see how that pans out. We need to exhaust every possibility,” Tweedhope said.
The town will also look at how volunteers can be more recognized for the work they do. Cross suggested a formal ceremony when a trainee achieves his or her badge.
They’ll also look at some the joint use agreements already in place with other services in the area.
“We may be able to extend some of that,” Cross said.
“The trends in volunteerism are not looking good,” Cross said. “We’ll be looking at it every year. If we start to see we’re sliding into difficulty— Due diligence is what we’re into now, making sure we monitor it very carefully.”