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Letter: Tactics in campaign against firefighter cuts 'embarrassing'

Any councillor who would agree to a risk assessment at this point is "politically numb" says a letter writer

SooToday received the following letter from Mark Barsanti regarding the recent controversy over the city's decision to reduce its complement of firefighters in favour of increasing the number of paramedics:

On January 15, 2016 and January 17, 2016 there were two articles in the online edition the Sault Star, by the same author, on the same subject matter.

Namely the fire and emergency medical services re-alignment issue. 

The first article was apparently a report and the second was clearly an editorial piece that expressed an unequivocal opinion on the subject. 

The fire and emergency medical service re-alignment has created some debate in the community. 

The firefighters union have turned the issue into a political matter. 

They are asking council to manage the fire department. 

Council is a governing body.

They took the report of the executive responsible for fire services, exposed it to significant debate and made a decision. 

The only shortcoming in the events leading up to the decision is that the report did not contain the input of the firefighters but the firefighters chose not meet with the chief or provide their input despite his requests.

The effort of the firefighters union to further politicize the matter by engaging other levels of government is, in effect, a doubling down on a poorly chosen strategy they adopted when they decided not to work with management before all this started.

They are not only continuing to avoid working with their chief but they are also attempting to use a backdoor method to embarrass council. 

The most recent salvo of the union (as reported in the news article published on January 15 and supported in the opinion piece on the 17th), is to goad council to ask for the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office to complete a risk assessment, which is now apparently available at no charge.

This is a further step deeper into a poor strategy. 

First, the suggestion that council should now seek a risk assessment because it is free, is asking council to admit the politically untenable: That they did not seek a risk assessment earlier because of a few thousand dollars to create a report. 

The only inference the public could draw from that decision is that council believes it may have erred because it was too tight fisted to ask for the information it needed.

Any councillor who would agree to such a move is politically numb. 

Second, the legislation governing the Ontario Fire Marshal empowers the Fire Marshal to monitor whether a municipality is abiding by its responsibilities to provide service required under the Act and where a municipality is failing in that regard, to issue directives to a municipality where it has reason to believe that a serious threat to public safety exists. 

When he developed his report, the chief would have been aware of the powers of the Fire Marshal under sections 2 and 9 of the Act. 

He proceeded accordingly.

I suspect the firefighters union is also aware of these powers of the Fire Marshal. 

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office has not taken any action under the Act, with respect to council’s decision, even though they have the legislative power to do that. 

There is no need for an invitation from council to request that the Fire Marshal get involved. 

If the Fire Marshal’s Office had seen an issue, they would have exercised their legislative powers by now, or at least given notice that they intend to do so.

The firefighters union’s request to get council to seek a report from the Fire Marshal is nothing short of the union trying to embarrass the Ontario Fire Marshal by getting council to prod the Fire Marshal — as if the Fire Marshal is unaware of his duties and powers.

Unfortunately the decisions of the current union leadership are unraveling the long held reputations of so many firefighters who are dignified and upstanding people. 

The firefighters have tools available to them which will aid them in their search for a resolution. 

The chief and the rank and file need to mend their relationship.

That will only happen by talking.

Even if using embarrassing and misguided tactics in the public domain result in some form of victory, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. 

It’s time for council to redirect this matter to the chief for a resolution not a capitulation. 

- Mark S. Barsanti

Cold Lake, Alberta and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

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