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Finding efficiencies remains front of Midland-Penetanguishene fire chief's mind

Paul Ryan offers views on consultant recommendations for cost savings and efficiencies found in Simcoe County fire services review
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While Penetanguishene and Midland residents can feel good about most optimizations their fire services share, there are always ways to improve.

A third-party review of fire services in Simcoe County prompted regional fire chief Paul Ryan to present optimization recommendation comments to Penetanguishene council recently.

Ten recommendations for fire services in the county were offered by Pomax Consulting, aimed at providing possible efficiencies and service delivery models at a county and/or sub-county level.

“Certainly within North Simcoe,” said Ryan, “I think there’s an opportunity for the fire services if given the right direction from the CAOs and our respective councils; that there are some additional items that we can continue to look at and enhance for more efficiencies and cost-effectiveness going forward.”

Ryan spoke to each of the 10 recommendations for the county while focusing specifically on Penetanguishene during the report to council, with some being praised and others requiring consideration.

First on the list was the shared fire chief recommendation, which gave both Ryan and Deputy Mayor Anita Dubeau a chuckle.

“Originally it was supposed to be 15 months, and now it’s going into its seventh year that we’ve shared the executive assistant for Midland with Penetanguishene fire, and myself with the town of Midland fire department,” reminded Ryan with a laugh.

He noted that although further integration of a management structure could give the towns an acting municipal community emergency management coordinator to monitor situations and threats, so far “the wheels didn’t come off.”

Training centres and shared recruitment, intake, selection and equipment were similar enough for Ryan to point out that the closing of the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst last year allowed the Southwest Fire Academy in Waubaushene to step into the role. According to Ryan, this move will continue to result in cost savings, enhanced training and greater efficiencies.

“They’re a provincially recognized private college that offers some courses; they now run our recruit training for us, and when our recruits are coming out they’re coming certified under NFPA firefighter 1, firefighter 2 and hazmat awareness and operations,” said Ryan, noting that the two towns would try to align capital budgets to jointly purchase equipment such as a breathing apparatus replacement project from last year.

Ryan noted that various recommendations would have little impact or would not be very applicable to the unique circumstances of Penetanguishene and Midland fire services.

These included: Shared education and prevention resources, which North Simcoe residents have already been receiving for years; fire services consolidations which with further analysis could result in cost savings on Midland’s end and service enhancement for Penetanguishene; and the considerations of building a new fire station which Ryan said was unnecessary since the current firehall built in 2010 was "future-ready."

Two recommendations Ryan stated would have little benefit or enhancement were: Contracting services from neighbouring communities, since most firefighters in North Simcoe already work in Penetanguishene or Midland; and employing the quickest or closest vehicle response.

“As council is aware,” Ryan explained, “fire apparatus aren’t out driving the streets on patrol like the Ontario Provincial Police are; therefore it wouldn’t be any benefit that way as well.”

The final recommendation was to form a municipal and county committee that would further explore the recommendations, which Ryan was eager to support.

“I think that’s a great idea," he said. "Just because you hire a consultant who says here are 10 recommendations, if we really don’t start peeling back the layers of the onions of the recommendations to dig deeper, then it truly becomes harder to recommend to all our councils exactly what we need to go forward with.”

Ryan concluded the brief by sharing that the Penetanguishene-focused report had also been discussed with Midland fire administration.

“Pomax indicated that if some of the reviews were done, when it came to operational budgeting there could be a $400,000 savings; I’m not so sure that’s very accurate,” Ryan admitted. “We would all have to agree to some of those items, but they certainly talked about capital savings could be up to $20 million by 2031.”

Council directed staff to submit the town’s response on the county fire review recommendations back to the county.

Dubeau praised Ryan’s summary of the 315-page report, calling it good and thorough.

The County of Simcoe fire service review, Pomax Consulting ten recommendations, and Penetanguishene fire administration responses can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.