West End councils differ on the payment of volunteer firefighters



GORE BAY-GORDON—Council for the municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island has raised concerns as to why Gore Bay council defeated a motion from the joint fire board committee to have volunteer firefighters paid for fire board meetings, training course, mutual aid meetings and inspections for 2013.

“The purpose of our meeting of (fire) committee (on January 7, 2014) was to accept the submissions of payment to the firefighters for meetings they attended,” said Gordon/Barrie Island Councillor Lee Hayden at a meeting last week. We hashed this out and agreed to this and it was accepted by the whole committee that it would be retroactive to 2013.”

“A lot of the conferences and meetings the firefighters attend can take up a whole weekend,” said Councillor Hayden. “Subsequently we (council) received a call that the motion was defeated by Gore Bay council. I don’t know what to say about this. I still think we should support the motion.”

“I can’t think of what positive reason they (Gore Bay council) gave to not support this and this is going to cause some problems with the firefighters,” added Councillor Hayden.

“We can barely get people (firefighters) to meetings now,” said Councillor Betty Noble. “It’s no wonder we can’t get people to join the fire department. The town has trouble getting representatives to the meetings.” She pointed out that currently firefighters will attend weekend meetings over two days and only get $25 for their time and effort.

“I still recommend that we support the motion the committee passed,” Councillor Hayden. “We can at least show the firefighters we are in support of them.”

Councillor Barb Barfoot questioned if the proposed increases to the firefighters would mean a huge cost on the bottom line.

“I have no problem with supporting this recommendation,” said Councillor Bob Glasgow, prior to council supporting the motion.

The minutes of the joint fire board meeting for the corporation of the Town of Gore Bay and the municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island on January 7 states “that the board recommends to councils that the volunteer firefighters be paid $25 per day for meetings which include fire board meetings, training courses, mutual aid meetings, and inspections for 2013.”

“This would be for last year and we would look forward to this for this year (2014),” Gore Bay Councillor Betsy Clark said at a council meeting last week. “Our firefighters have been going to training courses, and meetings and hearing from other fire departments that members get paid and our guys are not getting paid anything. They felt they were being a little slighted and were a bit upset.”

“When our fire chief does inspections, the suggestion was that he be paid $25 for each inspection,” said Councillor Clark. “One of the reasons for this is that there is a fair bit of paper work that needs to be done.”

“We (currently) pay the firefighters’ expenses, but not a per diem for attending training courses or meetings,” said Mayor Ron Lane.

“I have a whole bunch of issues with this,” stated Councillor Jack Clark. “There is no reason we should go back and have to pay for the meetings for 2013. We pay the fire chief an honorarium, plus a per meeting amount. To change doesn’t make sense. And why do the firefighters have three members on the joint fire board? They should have one advisor. If we make these changes we have a total of nine members on the joint fire board and everyone would be paid to attend, except for the citizen representative. We don’t pay any of our other volunteer committees.”

“To be fair, I share all your concerns, and they shouldn’t come back at the end of the year and ask for this now,” said Mayor Lane. “The money should have been spent and approved last year. And secondly, the firefighters are volunteers and we don’t pay our other volunteer boards and committees. And the firefighters are volunteers who get paid for attending fires and expenses at training sessions.”

“I have no problem doing this for 2014, but not for 2013,” said Councillor Harry VanderWeerden.

“We have a great fire department and these members risk their lives every time they go out on a call. But it doesn’t seem right to me that they would be paid for attending meetings,” said Mayor Lane.

Council rejected the recommendation from its joint fire board committee.

Gore Bay Fire Chief Mike Addison told the Recorder late last week, “we’re within budget. This issue is still within our fire department budget. What we did at the last committee meeting was what is paid for and what is not. This is not an actual increase that is being proposed.”

Mr. Addison reiterated, “it is my understanding we are still within budget, we didn’t add to it. There is already an amount in the budget to pay for this.” He also pointed out, “councillors on the joint fire committee who attend the meetings are getting paid, so why shouldn’t firefighters?”

“We don’t volunteer for the fire department for the money,” stated Mr. Addison. “Property insurance rates are lower when an area has a fire department. We volunteer to help our town and neighbours, and this is still in the budget, we are not asking for more money.”

Tom Sasvari