Mayor Woodside’s assurance of no fire service cuts are “smoke and mirrors:” Fredericton firefighters

Written by Tracy Glynn on February 11, 2014

A tanker truck responded to the large industrial fire on Hanwell Road in Fredericton on Feb. 8. Firefighters are concerned that a tanker truck is being removed from service in the north side of Fredericton. Photo from the Fredericton Firefighters Association.

A tanker truck responded to the large industrial fire on Hanwell Road in Fredericton on Feb. 8. Firefighters are concerned that a tanker truck is being removed from service in the north side of Fredericton. Photo from the Fredericton Firefighters Association.

Fredericton Mayor bashes firefighters at council meeting for using social media to express concern

Fredericton – The Fredericton Firefighters Association says that a staffing change on one of its north side tanker trucks will put the public in danger.

Mayor Brad Woodside denounced Fredericton firefighters at Monday’s City Council meeting for using social media to express concern over operational changes that took effect on Feb. 10th. Woodside and Fire Chief Paul Fleming assured those gathered that a tanker truck was not being removed from service.

Council chambers were full of firefighters and supporters. A firefighter called the statements by the Mayor, “smoke and mirrors.” Firefighters congregated outside city council chambers once the meeting had moved on to the next agenda item. They had no opportunity to address council.

Joel Richardson, a former Fredericton city councillor, tweeted: “I am totally embarrassed by the dressing down @bradwoodside issued @IAFF1053 tonight. Apology please.”

“We were notified late last week that effective some time on Monday, Feb. 10 that the city was taking one of two tanker trucks at Two Nations Crossing Station on Fredericton’s north side out of service and replacing it with a rescue truck when staffing was available. A rescue truck doesn’t have a hose or water,” said Blair Sullivan, president of the Fredericton Firefighters Association.

“This change effectively means a decrease in our ability to respond to fires on the north side to places like Marysville, Devon, Lower St. Mary’s and Barkers Point and in outlying areas such as Noonan and Richibucto Road/Pepper Creek,” stated Sullivan.

Firefighters distributed a pamphlet that explained the differences between a tanker truck and a rescue truck at the council meeting. A tanker truck has a fire pump, water, ground ladders, medical supplies and jaws of life. A rescue truck has medical supplies and the jaws of life but does not have a fire pump, hose, water or ground ladders.

A tanker truck responded to the large industrial fire on Hanwell Road two days before the council meeting, on Saturday, Feb 8th.

“They’re chomping on some sour grapes,” said the president of the firefighters union, “We won a grievance arbitration decision a couple of weeks ago and now the city is attempting to save some money by reducing services. The Two Nations Crossing Station had the ability to respond with two tanker trucks and two full crews and now it doesn’t.”

Tanker trucks are always staffed with a captain. In April of last year, after a captain had retired, the city announced that it would staff the tanker truck with a lieutenant and not a captain. The City called the Tanker 2 truck a Rescue 2 truck in order to get around the requirement to staff the truck with a captain. The firefighters union filed a successful grievance against this move, noting that the tanker truck was still a tanker truck based on its equipment and response capacity. The arbitrator told the city that if they would have to change the equipment and response of the truck to make it a rescue truck and then they would be able to staff it with a lieutenant.

The salary difference between four captain’s and four lieutenant’s is $14,000 per year, noted Sullivan.

According to a statement by the Fredericton Firefighters Association released hours before the city council meeting, “As professionally trained firefighters whose priority is to serve and protect our community, we feel that it is our responsibility to inform citizens of the danger that is headed your way. This decision passed down by the City of Fredericton makes it very difficult for us to serve and protect you with the level of service you have grown accustomed to and deserve.”

A number of recent operational changes in Fredericton’s firefighting services have been met with opposition by those fighting the fires.

Prior to the decommissioning of the Marysville Station and the MacLaren Avenue Station and the opening of the new Two Nations Crossing Station, Fredericton’s north side had two tanker trucks staffed full time, one at Royal Road, one at Marysville and one as needed at MacLaren Avenue Station. The changing around of trucks on the north side amounts to a reduction in services, according to the Fredericton Firefighters’ Association.

The Daily Gleaner tried to obtain a copy of the 2002 location study for the Two Nations Crossing Station, a location that was also unpopular with the firefighters. City Hall informed the newspaper that they had lost its copy of the study, which was designed by Halifax-based Sperry & Partners. The newspaper’s editorial on Feb. 10th stated that, “All this is happening just days after the latest survey on municipal openness and transparency was released, which shows a drop in Fredericton’s rating. Now we hear another fire protection study is being done and will be released in March.”

Fire Chief Fleming spoke of Fredericton being a leader in fire services in Atlantic Canada at Monday’s council meeting but that’s not so, according to the Fredericton Firefighters Association. They argue that the City of Fredericton is currently not meeting national fire protection standards.

The standard for a response to an initial alarm for a single story, 2000 square foot home, without a basement is 15-17 firefighters in 8 minutes. “In order for the city to get 15-17 firefighters on the scene, we would have to empty every station in the city,” Sullivan told CBC Information Morning’s Terry Seguin on Monday. Fire Chief Fleming declined an interview with CBC.

The Firefighters have asked to give presentations to City Council about the failure of Fredericton to meet national fire protection standards. According to Sullivan, Woodside had promised the firefighters years ago that they would have a voice at council meetings but shortly after being re-elected in May 2008, the Mayor informed the firefighters that they would have to go through their management to address council.

Firefighters hope the the public will join them in raising public safety concerns associated with this latest change in service.

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