Full-time fire chief position narrowly endorsed by Lambton Shores council
Full-time fire chief position narrowly endorsed by Lambton Shores council
September 13, 2017
Exeter Times-Advocate
Article by: Gord Whitehead
 
LAMBTON SHORES — A closest possible 5-4 council vote has authorized chief administrative officer Kevin Williams to hire a full-time person to oversee the municipality’s five fire stations, each of which have been independently headed by five volunteer chiefs since the January 2001 amalgamation.
 
The recorded vote split decision was made at the Tuesday, Sept. 5 "regular council meeting," which left members less than two hours to reflect on opinions voiced by the five stations’ current chiefs who participated in a late afternoon "special meeting" on the same day.
 
Voting in support of Williams’ recommendation that he “be authorized to fill the position of fire chief and integrate it into the staff organization chart as appropriate” were Mayor Bill Weber,  Deputy Mayor Doug Cook,  Ward 2 Coun. Dan Sageman, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Rupke and Ward 4 Coun. Ronn Dodge. Voting in opposition were Ward 1 Coun. Dave Maguire,  Ward 5 Coun. Rick Goodhand, Ward 6 Coun. James Finlay and Ward 7 Coun. Jeff Wilcox.
 
There has been concern voiced by volunteer firefighters that Williams has a preferred candidate for the chief’s position. While making no reference to that concern, Goodhand asked Williams if the position will be advertised. The CAO said “yes.”

Following up in an email to Williams on Sept. 8, The Times-Advocate asked for a copy of the advertisement if it is prepared, and asked in what publications it will be advertised, will the advertisement be posted on the Lambton Shores website, what is the deadline for submitting applications, who will assess the applicants and choose a successful candidate and will  Lambton Shores council play a role in choosing and approving a successful candidate.
 
The CAO’s response to The T-A’s questions: “Hi Gord. I am working on other things now and will not be working on this until next week.”
 
In his pitch for a full-time chief, Williams cites a financial impact: “Council has already allocated $100,000 in the 2017 operating budget for the purpose of hiring a fire chief. No further funding will be required.”
 
Observers of council’s open meetings heard no discussion of what $100,000 will be spent on. Three or four months of a chief’s salary? Purchase of a vehicle? Building of an office? No salary range for the position has been disclosed.
 
In support of his recommendation, Williams leaned heavily  on "findings" in an Ontario Fire Marshal’s report and the Winegard consulting firm’s assessment of Lambton Shores’s structure and future needs.
 
During the special meeting discussion with the fire station chiefs, Wilcox countered, “Winegard is not a specialist in firefighting. The fire marshal is and didn’t make a definite recommendation.”
 
Opinions of the chiefs varied widely. Forest station’s Dave McLean told council, “I do support a full-time chief. It’s the way to go. It needs to be organized by one person.”
Steven Few, Northville station’s acting chief,  favoured the addition of an administrative clerk to handle the growing amount of paperwork. “That would go a long way. I think we (station chiefs) have enough experience here. Chief Few voiced his concern about having 'someone come in and dictate to us.'”
 
Grand Bend’s Jerry Van Bruane said, “My guys don’t want it. We’ve been doing the paperwork. We get along."
 
"I agree with Jerry,” said Jim Sisler, Arkona’s chief. “I was involved when they tried this before. We almost had mass resignation.” Thedford station’s Barry Balcom  shared his concern about “pushing volunteers.” Balcom said it costs a lot of money to replace just one firefighter.
 
Ward Four’s Coun. Dodge revealed his position, “I think it’s time there’s an overall chief and that our firefighters have the best. I don’t think it’s an administrative assistant that we need.”
 
Addressing the station chiefs, Ward 2’s Sageman suggested council was considering “somebody to support you guys. It shouldn’t be dictated to you.”
 
In a prepared statement, Ward 6 Coun. Finlay cited a county-initiated prediction that Lambton Shores’ population is declining. “For that reason alone I feel we can not warrant a $100,000.00 position and then two months down the road you will come to us for the next new hire of an administrative assistant and then further up the road you will come to us requesting a fire inspector, not to mention offices to house these individuals, cost will be around half a million dollars and over 10 years this adds up to to $5 million.  We are not just giving permission to recruit a new fire chief, it is the beginning of incubating a whole department. What about the cost benefit analysis or economic justification of taking such a project on?”
 
In support of his recommendation for a full-time hire, Williams stated in his report, “We do not anticipate that the chief will attend every call, be the incident commander at every fire, recruit every volunteer firefighter, or change every light bulb. Rather, we see the chief and the administrative assistant focusing on activities that will lighten the load of the station chiefs, particularly in those activities which they — and the OFM (Ontario Fire Marshal) report — suggest that they have not had time to address or have not effectively co-ordinated.”
 
Williams added, “Before hiring, it is essential that the CAO and the station chiefs as a group iron out in greater detail the authority, responsibilities, and priorities of both the chief and the station chiefs. We note in passing that some of the existing station chiefs have discussed retirement in the near future after their decades of dedicated service.
 
While their advice would obviously be valuable to the municipality as the transition to a permanent full-time chief is introduced, such a transition would be timely.”
 
The motion approved by the 5-4 vote makes no mention of hiring an administrative assistant.  That position, initially on a part-time basis, is recommended in the Winegard Organization and Workplace Review Report which was presented to council in June.