The decision to reduce overtime for Orillia firefighters was made without city council’s input, politicians say as concern grows in the community regarding ongoing Fire Station 2 closures.
Councillors Janet-Lynne Durnford, Ralph Cipolla, Jay Fallis and Jeff Czetwerzuk confirmed the decision was made without the input of council.
“It has not been a decision of council, and it has not come to council,” Durnford said in a recent interview.
All four councillors said they have received numerous calls from the public since Aug. 4, when the city originally made the decision to reduce overtime for the fire department.
This week, OrilliaMatters reached out to all members of council to weigh in on the ongoing issue.
The decision to cut overtime has resulted in firefighters operating solely out of Fire Station 1 on numerous days when staffing shortages arise, as they are now unable to call in off-duty firefighters on an overtime basis.
The Orillia Professional Fire Fighters Association has been outspoken against the move, arguing the city has jeopardized public safety, particularly in north and west Orillia, by extending response times for calls during Station 2 closures.
Union president Brett Eeles has said there are firefighters ready and willing to fill in on overtime amid staffing shortages to keep both of the city’s fire stations open.
On Sept. 11, Eeles joined members of the International Association of Firefighters to distribute literature around the community, encouraging residents to reach out to city politicians to put a stop to the closures.
The group of firefighters also attended the Sept. 11 meeting of council, after a deputation request from a union official was denied by the city.
Despite repeated requests from OrilliaMatters, city staff have declined to answer questions about who made the decision to reduce overtime, what prompted the decision, the nature of the overtime cuts, and more.
With looming contract negotiations between the city and the union, Mayor Don McIsaac said the city plans to carry out negotiations “at the table.”
“We’ve decided as a city not to comment. We want to negotiate on this at the table, not through the public media because … there’s all sorts of innuendo and false stories out there,” he said this week. “We want to avoid that, and we’d rather deal with it at the place that it should be dealt with.”
OrilliaMatters reached out to ask all council members whether council had anything to do with the decision, whether they think council should have input on such decisions, their opinions on the closures, and what they have been hearing from the community.
Cipolla said he thinks it is generally appropriate for city staff to make those types of personnel decisions.
“I think we have staff that can do that, but I think when it affects the budget and affects the taxpayers of this community, I think council should have an input into it,” he said.
“We have one of the best fire departments anywhere in Simcoe County. I think we really need to make sure that our community is safe. Yes, there are some changes that we can make to make it more affordable for the taxpayer, and I think we have to look at that, but I think we want to make sure that the community is safe," Cipolla stressed.
Durnford hopes to see an “open dialogue” moving forward “so that we can get this solved and make sure that the fire hall stays open.”
Regarding city council’s role on the issue, she said council input depends on whether the level of service in the community is affected by the decisions of city staff.
“I know that council sets (the) level of service for the fire hall, and I think that is the open question — whether this is a change to the level of service — and I don’t know,” she said. “I do know that meetings are occurring and that we will be talking about it as a council, and my hope is that we can work together to get this resolved.”
Czetwerzuk thinks it would be helpful “to at least have council talk about it and discuss (these types of issues).
“Council input is always valuable when it comes to issues like this.”
He said he wants to “make sure that things are as safe as possible for everyone, including the fire staff.”
Fallis said he appreciates the public’s input on the matter but added he could not offer an opinion on the situation.
“Unfortunately, because of our upcoming labour negotiations, I really can’t say much on the topic, but I do want to emphasize to everyone I really do appreciate the comments,” he said.
Councillors Whitney Smith and Luke Leatherdale declined to comment for this article.
Beyond explaining the city’s position on the matter, McIsaac declined to comment, as well.
Councillors David Campbell and Tim Lauer did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication of this article.