Compensation change for TLTI firefighters in Brockville
By Keith Dempsey, Local Journalism Initiative ReporterHeadlines News
Cost increase will be incorporated into the 2023 budget
The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands council recently approved an hourly compensation system for the fire service in the township.
Council approved the Firefighter Compensation Policy retroactive to Jan. 1.
The total cost of implementing the hourly compensation system is estimated at $363,747.35, an increase of $83,747.35 over the existing points-based system.
This cost increase is to be incorporated into the 2023 budget.
A report on fire services compensation policy by Fire Chief Mike Prior discussed how fire services have used a points system to pay volunteer firefighters. However, the chief argues, the point system is problematic.
The chief noted the total available budget is divided by the number of points incurred by all volunteer firefighters for the year, resulting in inconsistent pay rates per point from year to year. He added certain activities have been tracked and paid outside of the points system with no specific budget identified or process outlined within any current policy. And the impacts to the operating budget are unknown until the points are processed in November each year.
Staff developed a firefighter compensation policy that creates a framework whereby volunteer firefighters are paid on a per-hour basis for work completed, including responding to calls, training, fire prevention activities and fleet, equipment and station maintenance.
The compensation model is an hourly-based model, whereby volunteer firefighters are directly compensated for time worked to facilitate, for such things as operational readiness (i.e., training, apparatus and equipment checks); providing fire safety information to citizens as part of a public education mandate; or responding to emergencies in the rural community.
Coun. Brock Gorrell said he was disappointed council wasn’t given notice about this push for a firefighter compensation policy during budget discussions two months ago.
“There’s enough detail in here that I’m quite confident this has been discussed for months,” Gorrell said. “So, I’m a little disappointed we weren’t given a heads-up at the budget period, and here we are sort of jumping head-first into this thing with a 28 per cent increase.”
The township’s chief administrative officer, Stephen Donachey, said staffers “weren’t far enough down the track when we started doing the budget talks internally with staff.”
“There wasn’t any intent or ill will,” said Donachey. “It took us this long to get to this point to develop a model that we thought was fair to the firefighters.”
Donachey added that implementing an hourly compensation system gives the township a line of sight as to what the true costs are for the fire department, as well as incentivizing the firefighters.
“They know they are getting a set wage for coming to a call or to attend training, and I think that will help us in the long run with attracting and retaining people,” said Donachey.
Coun. Brian Mabee asked if the current points-based system, as opposed to the new system, would affect callouts, how the firefighters had to respond to a call or how often they respond.
Prior said it didn’t.
“Currently, the way the point system works, it works into a two-hour callout for the call, for a minimum, but what we’re proposing is a one-hour callout,” said Prior. “It’s not going to change the amount of people we need on scenes.”
Prior said the township fire service’s age range is from 20 to 70 years old, with a total of 81 current members, with eight new recruits between four stations brought in this year.
“Those numbers are really dwindling so we may have to look at another recruitment again,” said Prior said. “We have people come and go regularly. The average time (spent as a member of the fire service) is three to five years. Nobody really stays like me, for 35 years.”
-Brockville Recorder and Times
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