Midland Fire’s response time ‘putting the community at risk’
By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative ReporterHeadlines News fire response firefighter
April 19, 2023, Midland, Ont. – When it comes to fire response, precious minutes save lives. Midland council were reminded of that recently.
A long-awaited 10-year fire master plan for the town was presented at a recent regular meeting of Midland council, with some details being eye-openers for the new term of council.
Richard Monkman, consultant/CRA coordinator for Emergency Management Group Inc. who worked on the report, informed council members that four firefighters are needed on service calls according to NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards; Midland currently has two full-time on duty and requires calling volunteers until enough arrive for a general alarm or fire call. Only then does the fire truck leave the station.
“NFPA 1710 turn-out time is recommended for career departments as being at 80 seconds,” said Monkman. “Currently (in 2020)… your turn-out time 90 per cent of the time was 12 minutes, 27 seconds. That is putting the community at risk in a number of ways. It’s putting residents at risk because a fire doubles in size every two minutes, so in 13 minutes it’s doubled six times.”
Members of council who may have been glazing over the extensive nearly-200 page document and information overload were seen sitting at rapt attention with Monkman’s words, as he continued to inform them that the municipality was also at risk for service provision.
“To higher eight more firefighters at one time is quite an exposure to the community – that’s a lot of money – so we propose that you bring it in in stages and build up that fund to be able to cover those wages. Also, you’re enhancing your level of fire protection to the community. Once you have four on the truck responding within 80 seconds, that is your goal,” said Monkman.
Other recommendations in the master plan involved creating cost-savings through efficiencies, and of praiseworthy note was Midland and neighbouring Penetanguishene employing a joint fire chief.
The report went further in suggesting larger amalgamation by the two communities in sharing staff and vehicles. The sharing of deputy fire chiefs or fire prevention training, according to Monkman, would help toward cost efficiencies as well as retention of volunteers which could be as expensive as $20,000 per person.
Mayor Bill Gordon, a former volunteer firefighter himself, later agreed that greater amalgamation of fire services would be an option to explore.
“Clearly we need to offset the major capital expenses and soft expenses of our human capital as we have the need to have more people, and meet those response times going from over 10 minutes to less than two minutes,” Gordon shared.
“From my perspective, I’d like to see us exploring that merger – amalgamation, I hate to use that word – the blending of two fire services of Midland and Penetanguishene, exploring that this term sooner rather than later, and start looking for the synergies, efficiencies and savings that come with that,” said Gordon.
Overall, the master plan explored the municipality’s fire staff and training levels, equipment and apparatus, station location, and response capabilities. These were compared to industry best practices and standards, and in 2022 were compiled into 11 areas of recommendation: operations that could be handled by the fire chief as needed; and strategic with financial costs requiring possible council approval.
Whereas the Office of the Fire Marshal looked at public education, enforcement and inspections, and emergency response as “the three lines of defence” to service communities, EMG added emergency management as a fourth line for their work; Monkman addressed the 2010 tornado as an example.
“If a municipality is not able to meet the minimum standards and something does happen, the Office of the Fire Marshal bring these standards out as reference and go from there. And in some instances, and I hate to say this, it works negatively toward the community because they are not meeting basic standards of care for the community for service provision,” said Monkman, adding that Midland wasn’t currently at risk of that possibility.
Gordon spoke highly of the master plan, and also addressed a recommendation looking at replacing the 25-year-old fire station and exploring a merge of OPP, emergency and fire services into one building for cost savings.
Deputy Mayor Jack Contin called the recommendations a long-term strategy and high priority for investment in the Midland Fire Department.
The problematic retention of volunteers was raised in the 2022 fire master plan, but absent in the document was mention of the Southwest Fire Academy in nearby Waubaushene in Tay Township _ a career college for training emergency services and pre-service firefighting – instituted when the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst had closed in 2021, allowing firefighters from North Simcoe and Southern Georgian Bay to benefit from the facility.
Council adopted the master plan with intent to take into consideration its recommendations during annual budget cycles.
The 2022 Fire Master Plan, with full details in its 34 operation and strategic recommendations, can be found in the council agenda on the Town of Midland website.
Further information can be found on the fire and emergency services page of the Town of Midland website.
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