GREENSTONE — With residents of Caramat recently learning that their fire hall will be closing and that Longlac will be taking over firefighter responsibilities, Deputy Mayor Jamie McPherson gave his views on the consequences, issues and future plans, that resulted because of this closure.
McPherson recently shared his reaction and thoughts about the Caramat Fire Hall closure. From the onset of learning about the inevitable Fire Hall closure, he identified some key issues.
One issue, McPherson described, was the result of the province mandating that a certain number of firefighters for each detachment be maintained. His response to this expectation was that, “In the small wards and smaller communities that is a huge struggle to maintain that, and over the years Caramat has struggled to have enough volunteers for firemen in their ward detachment. Therefore, it is hard to have been covered by Longlac for a number of years”. This was something that the small community had to face; that in reality, Longlac has been responding to their needs.
In light of the fact that the Municipality has closed the Caramat Fire Hall, McPherson indicated that the next step would be, “expediting education for the residents and the members of the community in fire prevention, so we do our best to minimize the risk that they may feel”. Throughout this process, safety of their staff and community is seen as paramount.
With any closure of a facility such as this, the question as to what will be done with remaining equipment and resources needs to be answered. The Deputy Mayor made it clear that equipment from the Caramat Fire Hall would be reassigned to the Departments that need it and can use it.
McPherson spoke about the need for training of firefighters. For small wards, it could be a financially challenging for municipalities to provide needed training and at the same time ensure that they would have these volunteer firefighters.
The need to train volunteer firefighters is seen as a huge issue, one that McPherson said caused a “lively discussion” at their recent council meeting. The backdrop to all of these discussions is the fact that for remote communities, the safety of the staff and the economic reality needs to be balanced.
In Greenstone, they have four fire departments with each one having at least 15 members. The Greenstone Fire Department has between 60 and 70 members, which McPherson stated is the same amount as members of communities the size of Orangeville and Belleville. The concern is that Greenstone does not have the population to justify having that many fire departments.
“We don’t have that population, so the expectation that is being placed on us is that we have to train these people to standards that the province is looking towards and we don’t know how to do that. Financially, it is over six figures for just the municipality of Greenstone. We need to have some help in making that happen if that is the desire of the province”.
One step that McPherson indicated was an option for the community was to meet with and ask NOMA what they could do to help them and when meeting with them making sure that they represent all the small communities in Northern Ontario. When it comes to the province’s expectations, all small communities in the region are facing the same challenges. One thing was guaranteed, and that was that they are not looking to make this a situation where firefighters would become a full-time paid position for Greenstone. Rather, one needs to keep in mind that these are volunteers who are volunteering their efforts and therefore do not want fire fighting to be a full-time job. Small communities typically have volunteer fire departments and ambulance services; they are all volunteer based.
As a final point regarding the present situation that Greenstone is in, the Deputy Mayor spoke about what he described as a “calming period” while they wait for Greenstone to have the opportunity to set up meetings with and get feedback from NOMA. “The community has a window for a calming period so we’ve directed staff to prepare a report, a letter and resolutions so that we can get the input in during this calming period”, stated McPherson.
McPherson wants to ensure that when they meet with NOMA that they all have a similar understanding of the issues and similar expectations as to what can be done. Mayors and CAO’s will be meeting with government officials at some point in the coming week to get some input, which will then provide them with a vision as to what their focus needs to be.
The bottom line for these small communities is that they need to look after the safety of staff and accept the economic reality which will essentially dictate how they will be moving forward as a result of the closure of the Caramat Fire Hall.