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Council signs off on fire department review

External consultant approved to conduct strategic planning process for Thunder Bay Fire Rescue.
Banning Street fire
Thunder Bay Fire Rescue crews attend a Banning Street house fire on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – City council has approved a strategic review of Thunder Bay's fire department, a process that has been previously slammed by the union representing its firefighters.

Thunder Bay city council on Monday night voted in favour of spending $89,000 for a private consultant to undertake a strategic review of Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, selecting Barrie, Ont.-based Emergency Management and Training Inc. to undertake a strategic planning process.

Mark Smith, the city's general manager of development and emergency services, suggested having an outside set of eyes brought in to evaluate the service would be beneficial.

"I think that it's hard for us to look in a mirror and be objective," Smith said. "We certainly have the skills to look at what it is that we do and how we do it but I'm not confident we have objectivity."

The city's request for proposals, which was issued earlier this year, identified opportunities for cost containment as a key objective. Eric Nordlund, a local firefighter who is an executive member of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, subsequently blasted the process as being a mandate that could result in cuts and job losses.

The fire service operates out of eight stations throughout the city, employing 211 people. More than 95 per cent of its annual operating budget of nearly $30 million is consumed by wages and benefits. The department is estimated to respond to 9,000 incidents per year, which also include medical calls.

Coun. Aldo Ruberto questioned why the work couldn't be done in house, as had been done in a previous strategic plan.

"I have faith in our own people to come up with a strategic plan," Ruberto said. "If I'm looking to save some money, I say to myself that $89,000 that I'm going to pay the consultant, I'd rather save that money and look at our own staff and the people involved and get them to do this."

The money reallocated for the review had previously been included in capital budgets over previous years that had not been spent. It will not come out of this year's tax levy.

Coun. Rebecca Johnson, who during the city's budget review process had proposed a one per cent reduction to the department, said sometimes the city needs to go outside to look at what can be done internally.

"I really feel this is something we need to have somebody from the community to seriously look at what we're doing," Johnson said. "I think their expertise in various areas, which is what we're trying to get to with the fire services, can be done with this particular company."

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is honoured to tell the stories of his hometown.
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