Layoffs possible for Woodstock firefighters
Firefighters in Woodstock are feeling the heat ahead of city council meetings that will consider slashing their staff by eight per cent in an attempt to control the cost of emergency services.
And Woodstock isn't the only community in southwestern Ontario considering possible layoffs for emergency responders.
London is awaiting an arbitration ruling on a new contract for firefighters after Windsor received a decision awarding a 15.1 per cent pay raise over four years.
But cuts are a concern for the Professional Firefighters Association, the union representing Woodstock firefighters. They say a recommendation to reduce their ranks puts public safety at risk.
Chuck Newton, president of the Woodstock Professional Firefighters Association, says “When you are putting our lives in danger or the public's lives in danger it is something you have to really look at.”
A consultant hired to find efficiencies and cost savings in the fire department recommends council reduce the number of firefighters from 48 to 44.
And Woodstock’s CAO disputes claims that the move would jeopardize the public.
David Creery says “Public safety is the number one consideration throughout our entire fire department review.”
Woodstock currently has four platoons of 12 firefighters and each platoon has a minimum staffing level of eight, with the four additional firefighters covering vacations, sickness and absences among other duties.
City hall says reducing four to three won't affect emergency response.
But the firefighters association took a look at the city budget and calculated that the four positions cost the average homeowner just $2.04 a month.
Still, Creery says “We are no different than any other municipality…that is struggling with the affordability of our emergency services.”
He adds that across the province arbitration rulings have increased emergency responder salaries much faster than other municipal employees and Woodstock isn't alone in having to consider cuts.
“Across Ontario you will be hearing more about this as municipalities continue to struggle with funding emergency services.”
But Newton argues there must be alternative options, “Taking four firefighters off the job, I don’t think is the proper way to look after it.”
A full list of recommended changes to firefighting service will be debated by Woodstock city council next Thursday.