KAWARTHA LAKES-Kawartha 411 News has learned that at least one firefighter was suspended from the Kirkfield firehall amid what appears to be a growing divide within the ranks.
It’s unclear exactly what sparked the issues but sources say it may have started with the proposed purchase of an ATV for the hall.
Councillor Emmett Yeo says council approved the purchase of the much needed ATV approximately a year ago but management dragged their feet in obtaining one.
“The time it took a resolution of council to be acted on is not acceptable.” Yeo told Kawartha 411 News. “The ATV issue was poorly handled in my opinion.”
According to our source the suspended staff was directly involved in trying to facilitate to purchase of the ATV in accordance with council resolution. The is reported to have lead to accusations of harassment from staff and management both. It’s unclear how long the suspension is for.
“From what I hear morale is really low right now and that has to be addressed.” Yeo said.
Sources close to the situation, who want to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, told Kawartha 411 the morale has been low for about a year.
“They do this for the community, because they love their community.” the source said. “Management is undermining the volunteer firefighters, the lack of respect is disturbing.”
While the term “volunteer” isn’t necessarily the case in the true sense of the word, they are on call 24/7 but paid a nominal fee when they respond to a call.
The actual number of volunteer firefighters with the service is a little murky. Our sources say there is under 300. The City says there is 350. Chief Mark Pankhurst told council on Tuesday there’s 350-400. A new draft fire plan states we need 380.
“They dock their pay arbitrarily, by whatever amount they want. They nickel and dime them for 15 minutes etc. regularly. They don’t give them enough time to book off work for training and they are routinely asked to go to the hall for things that aren’t an emergency, all while questioning their pay.” our source told Kawartha 411.
Yeo said he hadn’t heard about the issue with pay and urged the volunteers to bring the issue to council. “I can well imagine that would effect morale” he said.
The service is short staffed as management struggles to find volunteers and some say that low morale has a lot to do with that.
“I know they are constantly recruiting, it’s hard because they are trying to focus on people who are available during the day.” Yeo explained.
Meanwhile the City has sent letters to some volunteers recently relieving them of their duties because they didn’t “put in enough hours” according to our sources.
Some volunteers are also concerned about what they claim is a lack of mental health supports for volunteers.
“What these people see sometimes is horrible, there is no phone call, no debrief, nothing after traumatic incidents. I’d say they just don’t care.” the source said.
Councillor Yeo asked for mental health supports to be added to the Fire Master Plan that was presented to council on Tuesday.
“There is nothing for these guys to fall back on as far as supports go where a full time firefighter would have support.” Yeo said.
The City provided the following statement after sending some staff an email warning them not to speak to the media:
“Employees who have concerns or comments are encouraged to reach out to their Manager or Director as appropriate and union to address issues using the available mechanisms. That being said, we will not be providing comments in response to your inquiry.” The Human Resources Department said via email to Kawartha 411.
CUPE the union has been representing the volunteers since September. They said they had no comment at this time.
This all comes at a time when the fire service is looking to spend thousands on new equipment, add more full time firefighters and develop its own training facility. We will have more on that proposal next week.