Ontario gives COVID cash to Island fire departments

MANITOULIN – The Ontario government is providing municipal fire departments across the province with funding through the Ontario Fire Marshal to help offset costs and barriers associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s great. It’s been a long time since there’s been any government funding for fire departments and so, for us, we’re happy to get it,” said Mike Addison, fire chief of the Gore Bay-Gordon/Barrie Island Joint Volunteer Fire Department.

Ontario created the Municipal Fire Protection Grant to offer support to municipalities in the 2020-2021 year to address pandemic-related issues, such as accessing training, getting required equipment or other essential upgrades that can be used to facilitate tasks like virtual inspections.

“This is certainly something that will be helpful toward the day-to-day operation of fire departments, but there is a lot more that needs to be done like working toward updating and securing additional funding for fire departments for the increased costs they and other organizations have felt due to COVID. I will be aggressively pursuing that,” said Algoma-Manitoulin NDP MPP Mike Mantha.

While a handful of MPPs from the ruling Progressive Conservative government issued releases about the funding, Mr. Mantha said his colleagues across the aisle had not informed him of the funding before The Expositor’s questions on the matter. This newspaper accessed the funding amounts through a request to the Ontario Fire Marshal.

“Am I displeased with not being involved? Absolutely. Am I surprised? Unfortunately, no I’m not,” he said.

According to a backgrounder document about the funding, it could help fire departments “to train more staff, purchase much-needed equipment to allow them to adapt and respond to COVID-19 related risks in their communities in a way that ensures both community and personnel safety.”

In the District of Manitoulin, the following municipalities will be receiving funding: Assiginack, $4,800; Billings, $4,700; Burpee and Mills, $4,600; Central Manitoulin, $5,100; Gore Bay, $4,800; Killarney, $4,600; Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, $5,200; and Tehkummah, $4,700.

Tehkummah fire chief Jeff Wilson told The Expositor that his volunteer force will be using the funds to support online training activities now that Ontario Fire College is closing down and much more education will have to take place virtually. This includes purchasing laptops for department use and signing members up for additional online training.

“It’s fantastic. We definitely could use some support and the government seems to be coming through,” Mr. Wilson said.

To the west, Mr. Addison said part of the funds would go toward a larger television for the training room so more people could watch visual training courses, as well as investing in first-responder courses.

“I’m training some of my team to be first responders so we can deal with any patients at a scene or, more than anything, dealing with our own people if anything should happen,” he said. “Fortunately, all of our departments on the Island were able to take advantage of this; it’s very welcome. We have limited budgets so we’re happy to receive it.”