When I moved to Sidney 32 years ago, there was only one part-time member of the fire department, the fire prevention officer.
With the approval of current manpower plans, there are now many full-time positions: the Fire Chief, Deputy Chief, an assistant chief (training) and at least one fire prevention officer and four firefighters. There are also civilian support people. Over a one thousand per cent increase in personnel over 30 years. The Town’s population has not quite doubled in that time and is currently (apparently) going down.
This makes the fire department a composite department, not wholly volunteer. Wages are currently all either management exempted or CUPE. This allows for considerable savings as compared to union first class fire fighter paid at a rate of $90,000 per year without benefits, that is commanded by members of the International Association of Fire Fighters. My question would be: can the council guarantee that the union will not ever change? I don’t think so. One day, a different union may be present with corresponding monetary increases to all personnel, including exempt managers, who will need to be paid proportionally more than those they supervise.
The fire department has plans for the future to acquire a new, larger aerial truck. The department already has a “quint” which is a small aerial ladder truck that is not that old. The cost of this type of equipment is around one million dollars. In a town where the tallest building is six floors, do we need (or can we afford) this equipment, in addition to all the other monetary requests? Will we be so over taxed from fire hall funding that costs for this type of equipment, or any other large project in the Town, will be difficult?
Consider these points, then factor in a new hall. Also consider that the fire hall that exists now is more earthquake resistant and larger than those in Oak Bay or Esquimalt, both communities with full-time fire departments and far larger populations. The Sidney Fire Department possesses more vehicles than these two full-time forces. The Sidney hall is also newer than these halls, less than 30 years old. When it was built it was envisioned to be the disaster centre for the town, due to its earthquake resistant capacity.
What are the overall priorities for council and the fire department? Council needs to consider the overall tax implication of these proposed expansions and equipment upgrades as a total dollar impact on the taxpayer and not isolate them in 20-year plans and studies.
The manpower plans, equipment plans and fire hall replacement plans will impact property taxes and could lead to reduced services offered by other municipal departments. We need to provide safe, modern and appropriate equipment, location and environments to our now composite fire department, taking into account the financial realities of the times.
The current site could and should be made to work. The current location for the new fire hall is the third choice of council and is near the airport flight path.
Council voted to not allow the public a chance to voice their opinion on the new hall, acknowledging that a reverse petition would likely succeed. As this is a very large financial undertaking, I believe this decision to be flawed.
R.W. (Bob) Jones, Sidney