A consultant report commissioned by the County of Simcoe to look into fire services claims there isn’t enough consistent data to make the efficiency recommendations they were asked to bring forward.
“The information we requested was received from most municipalities, but the ‘apples to apples’ comparison most of us would like to see was difficult to accomplish because of the variance in how municipalities keep records,” noted Pomax Consulting Inc. in their report, which was considered at the County of Simcoe Service Delivery Task Force’s Dec. 6 meeting.
“The point of this discussion paper is to drive home the point that there is such a scarcity of data in most fire services that there is almost no choice but to continue the traditional approach to fire service delivery because there is no information upon which to base change,” reads the report summary.
Despite what they say is a consistent lack of data, Pomax is making 10 recommendations on how fire services across Simcoe County could be made more efficient, which have now been forwarded to all 18 municipalities in Simcoe County for further comment before recommendations will be made at Simcoe County council tables.
The 10 recommendations out of the report are as follows:
- Share fire chiefs where possible
- Share recruitment, intake, selection, training, and equipment
- Share public education and prevention resources
- Consolidate fire services
- Team up to establish training centres
- Conduct a robust needs analysis when considering building a new fire station
- Consider contracting service from a neighbouring community
- Employ the precept of quickest or closest vehicle responds
- Obtain data and information to answer the question “What are we doing?” Municipalities and the county should work together to determine if the county can provide a data resource service
- Form a municipal – county committee to further explore these recommendations particularly the provision of a data service by the county
In the report, Pomax indicated that municipalities in the county should be able to realize an overall savings of a minimum of $400,000 in operating costs by 2022, and up to $20,000,000 in capital avoidance by 2031 by following the recommendations.
The report notes that some of the recommendations are already in place in some parts of the county. For example, Penetanguishene and Midland are currently sharing fire chiefs, as are Bradford-West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
The consultant estimates sharing a chief may save a municipality $50,000 to $100,000 or more a year.
Sharing recruitment, intake, selection, training, and equipment already takes place in North Simcoe. Collingwood also has some agreements with Clearview Township and the Town of the Blue Mountains for sharing of resources.
“Fires may be an impetus for establishing a new or additional fire station but sometimes medical incidents are held out as part of the justification,” notes the report. “Fires are on a downward trend. It is possible medical responses will also trend downwards.”
“Without adequate data – by that we mean detailed, robust, and co-ordinated with paramedic services – current response practices will continue without evidence that they are accomplishing anything other than anecdotal success,” reads the report.
Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson sits on the county’s Service Delivery Task Force with Wasaga Beach Mayor Nina Bifolchi as Chair, Springwater Deputy Mayor Jennifer Coughlin, Severn Township Deputy Mayor Jane Dunlop, Bradford West Gwillimbury Deputy Mayor James Leduc, as well as some county staff.
“Because these are all municipally driven initiatives, any change would have to be done with the consent of the municipalities,” Saunderson told CollingwoodToday.ca this week. “We’re trying to make sure the municipalities are engaged in these discussions because ultimately, it will be a decision that will also have to come from the local municipalities.”
“These decisions impact local services in each municipality. Any changes (made), we’ll have to make sure the municipalities are on-side for. We can’t unilaterally impose it,” he said.
The task force is currently waiting to hear back from each fire department and municipality on their impressions of the consultant report before they will make any official recommendations.
“While there is a lot of data, it’s not consistent across the county. Different fire departments keep different data. One of the recommendations is to look at uniform data to inform any larger, longer-term decisions,” said Saunderson. “The major changes aren’t imminent.”
Saunderson said there are also aspects of the different fire departments that make some of them incomparible, for example some are made up of volunteers, while others have full-time and volunteer components, as well as multiple different union agreements.
“Fire services delivery is obviously a crucial delivery of service for all of our municipalities,” he said. “How to change that model is a very big discussion with a lot of moving parts.”
“The primary starting point is to get uniform data,” said Saunderson.
Nearly two years after County of Simcoe council voted to proceed with finding efficiencies within their services, the Service Delivery Task Force is still working through staff and consultant reports in a variety of sectors.
The task force was formed initially to come up with service efficiency suggestions for the regional governance review through the province, and continued their work after the province announced in October 2019 it would put the decision-making powers back into the hands of the municipalities instead of forcing top-down change.
In January 2020, County of Simcoe council voted to hire third-party consultants to look into the possibility of streamlining fire services, land-use planning (Official Plans and zoning) and library services across the County of Simcoe. They also voted to use their own staff to investigate possible efficiencies in storm-water management, legal services, transit, water and wastewater. The province provided specific funding to municipalities including the County of Simcoe to undertake the review.
In the nearly two years since, no major changes to services have yet made their way to the council table.
In November, the KPMG Consulting report regarding library services came before County of Simcoe council, however council voted at that time to stick with the status quo, with some modifications, on how library services will be delivered county-wide.