Scugog looks to modernize fire service
Scugog looks to modernize fire service
June 8, 2017
Port Perry Star
Article by: Chris Hall
 

Chief Mark Berney outlines sweeping changes to Scugog Fire Department

 
Scugog Fire Chief Mark Berney

SCUGOG — Scugog’s fire chief has pitched a modernization plan to council that he hopes will increase the number of volunteer firefighters and how they’re structured and paid as well as tweak the roles of the Township’s full-time firefighters.

In a report to council on June 5 that was accompanied by a presentation of Scugog’s new master fire plan, Chief Mark Berney outlined in great detail how he planned to reshape the Scugog Fire Department in the years to come through some minor and major changes.
 
All of the changes, stressed Chief Berney at the end of his presentation, can be accommodated in Scugog’s existing 2017 budget and do not include the hiring of any new full-time staff.
 
In his report, the fire chief urged councillors to accept the master fire plan — which was started in 2014 and completed by Dillon Consulting — and the 42 recommendations included in the document. He noted the fire service has already acted on more than half of those suggestions.
 
Among the suggestions put forward by Chief Berney was increasing Scugog’s complement of volunteer firefighters, their hierarchy and how they’re paid.
 
Currently, the fire service has an approved complement of 60 volunteer firefighters, with 30 earmarked for each of Scugog’s two fire stations in Port Perry Caesarea.
 
In his report, the fire chief recommended that number be increased to 62 to accommodate his proposed modernized volunteer rank structure and staffing apparatus plan. He also asked for the flexibility to temporarily increase that number to 65 to prepare for preplanned retirements as well as short-term and long-term absenteeism.
 
Chief Berney also suggested revamping the rank structure of the volunteer firefighters. Currently, there is one station commander per station, captains, lieutenants, firefighters and probationary firefighters. Under the new rank structure, there would be district captains, captains, first and second-class firefighters, probationary firefighters and recruit firefighters.
 
“Modernizing the volunteer firefighter complement into ranks and classifications will instil accountability, provide leadership and strengthen team effectiveness, enhance safety and reward attendance,” wrote Chief Berney in his report.
 
As part of the change to rank structure, the fire chief recommended tweaking the volunteer firefighters’ remuneration schedule. Currently, the volunteers are paid a varying hourly wage depending on what they’re doing, from fire prevention duties and training to emergency responses.
 
Under the fire chief’s proposal, the benchmark would be set at a first-class firefighter’s wage — almost $35 per hour for a certified firefighter who can drive a fire truck and operate pumps — with percentages above and below that amount based on rank and skills.
 
He also suggested that Scugog cover some of the testing costs for potential volunteer firefighters and stressed that it takes about 300 hours of theoretical and skills-based training through five stages to become a certified firefighter.
 
Ideally, said Chief Berney, in the years to come he’d like all his volunteer firefighters to become certified.
 
“There’s nothing worse than volunteer firefighters showing up and they can’t operate the trucks,” said the fire chief. “That’s not a good day.”
 
The report also recommended that Scugog’s two part-time administrative assistants have their hours — currently 24 hours and 11 hours, respectively — bumped up to 24 hours each per week, totalling 48 hours a week in support.
 
Chief Berney also addressed changes for Scugog’s four full-time firefighters in his report. Currently, there is one fire prevention officer, a suppression captain and two firefighters. Under the fire chief’s restructuring plan, there would be a fire prevention officer, a training officer, duty captain and maintenance technician (lieutenant).
 
“This is a good thing for our department, a good thing for our municipality,” the fire chief told councillors.
 
He added the full-time firefighters were open to the idea during their latest round of contract talks held earlier this year.
 
“The (Scugog Professional Fire Fighters Association) got on board and seen the same vision that I do,” said Chief Berney.
 
No deputy fire chief was included in Chief Berney’s proposed organizational chart.
 
He also stressed there would be a focus on the regular maintenance and certification of equipment.
 
“When we get to a scene, that equipment must operate,” said Chief Berney.
 
As for Scugog’s two fire halls, the fire chief noted that while both are aging — the Port Perry station was updated in 2001, the Caesarea hall in 1987 — there is no need to start thinking about replacements.
 
“It’s not at the top of the list,” said Chief Berney about new facilities. “With a little bit of TLC ... both fire stations are adequate for our needs in both of our communities.”
 
He also noted that some thought will be given in the future about tweaking Scugog’s emergency communications system. Currently, Oshawa Fire Services receives emergency calls and then alerts Scugog firefighters; at an emergency scene, Scugog firefighters then take over incident communications and control.
 
“With today’s increasing movement to adopt standards, performance benchmarks and exercising risk mitigation strategies, there is sufficient reasoning to have the communications function provided by an established communications centre with professional communicators,” wrote the fire chief.
 
Included in the fire master plan was a chart that suggested six firefighters should be at a fire scene in 14 minutes in a rural area. In an urban area, the chart noted that 15 firefighters should be on scene in nine minutes.
 
Those time lines only include combined turnout times (the time required for firefighters to react and prepare to respond) and travel times (from the fire hall to the incident) and does not include the dispatch time (the time to receive and dispatch the call).
 
Scugog councillors accepted the chief’s recommendations, but asked for additional feedback from the volunteer firefighters before officially approving the changes at a future council session.
 
To read the report, visit www.scugog.ca.