By Mike Williscraft
A shared fire protection service between Grimsby and Lincoln took its first formal step Monday with Lincoln approving a report recommending a pilot program be implemented.
The report was approved unanimously by Lincoln council.
“Staff recommends that a pilot project to provide shared fire protection services for Lincoln and Grimsby proceed as outlined in this report, and that Council approve the execution of a shared fire service agreement with the Town of Grimsby and enact the necessary by- laws accordingly,” reads Lincoln fire chief Greg Hudson’s report.
The major reason for going this route has been to maintain the volunteer firefighter service, according to officials in both municipalities.
“The volunteer fire service model currently in place in Lincoln and Grimsby, and indeed throughout North America, has proven to be a very cost-effective method of providing fire protection services,” said Hudson.
“However, increasing call volumes, competing demands on time for requisite training and certifications, and an ever-increasing host of other duties are threatening this model in many communities.”
“By providing a larger collective pool of firefighters, a shared fire department is expected to ease the demands on our volunteer firefighters which should ultimately preserve and sustain the volunteer fire service model.”
The consideration for a shared fire protection service has been an on-again, off-again issue for well over a year and came up for review after the provincial assessment on possible municipal amalgamation in 2019.
While Lincoln reviewed and analyzed the possibilities internally, Grimsby budgeted $20,000 for a consultant, but later got a grant to off-set that cost. The consultant hired – a former Sarnia fire chief – Richard Boyes, who is the father of Bill Boyes. The latter was Brampton’s fire chief when current Grimsby CAO Harry Schlange was CAO there. Boyes was also fire chief in Sarnia when Grimsby Coun. Kevin Ritchie, a firefighter by profession, was part of that department.
A working group struck to review the possibilities found commonalities made the venture a good option.
“Because Grimsby and Lincoln have many similarities from a fire service perspective, it is reasonable to consider shared service opportunities for the delivery of fire protection services as well,” said Hudson in the report.
“Both towns have similar populations, demographics, geographic profiles, both are experiencing significant growth, and both have similar fire risk profiles. Furthermore, Grimsby and Lincoln already have reciprocal fire protection agreements for QEW highway responses, vulnerable occupancy and high-rise building fire support, rural water supply support, and high angle rescue support.”
A joint advisory committee will be formed consisting of three council members and the CAO from each Town, the fire chief – it is expected Hudson will be named to the post – and deputy fire chiefs will sit on the committee as non-voting members.
All staff will remain employees of their current municipality during the pilot, but their direct reports may change as the new organizational chart is implemented.
Other key points are:
• all capital items – buildings/equipment would be available for use but remain the property of each municipality;
• no cost savings are expected during the pilot;
• Start date if projected to be Oct. 1, 2021, and;
• a third-party audit would be undertaken to identify the financial benefits and liabilities for each municipality.
Grimsby council has yet to formally approve the pilot concept, but participated in Hudson’s report.