Windsor's fire chief surprised by West Hants council's latest request

Carole Morris-Underhill
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Although the Windsor Fire Department has been without an agreement with the Municipality of West Hants for about four years, the volunteer firefighting force continues to provide service and mutual aid to rural residents.

Windsor's fire chief says the department is “baffled” by West Hants council's recent decision to send the volunteer organization a registered letter requesting they reply within 14 days of receipt.

Council's decision to request, in writing, detailed answers to the municipality's main concerns with the current fire service arrangement was presented at their April 22 committee of the whole meeting.

Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess, who has been serving the Windsor Fire Department for 26 years, said the WFD executive was under the impression council was not making any motions or decisions pertaining to the outstanding fire services issues until a conflict of interest allegation against one of their councillors had been resolved.

When word arrived about the pending letter, Burgess said they were caught off guard.

“We're baffled by this letter. It caught us by surprise,” said Burgess, who indicated that as of April 24, the WFD has not received the piece of registered mail.

The issues West Hants council wants answered are the same ones they presented in November 2013, save one that they have already resolved. The topics include: a new way of doing business, ownership of fire apparatus, concerns over having a paid fire chief, the desire to have a contract and payment schedule similar to the one the Town of Windsor has, discussion on the need for a new fire station, and changing the payment structure for the South West Hants Fire Society. Council noted the issue concerning the South West Hants Fire Society would not be included in the registered letter.

 

A look at the ongoing dispute

The municipality and WFD have been without a contract for about four years, with much of the dispute playing out in the public eye for the last two years.

In 2012, West Hants commissioned a study to examine the costs associated with maintaining their contract with the WFD and the feasibility of branching out on their own. The study, written by Wayne Swinamer, a former Windsor firefighter, was presented Jan. 29, 2013. The initial versions of the report suggested the municipality would see significant cost savings if they created their own fire department to cover the area currently being served by the WFD. Construction of a fire station in Garlands Crossing was suggested, as well as future consideration for a substation in Falmouth.

In July 2013, the WFD countered the study's figures. A panel of experts hosted a public meeting to discuss their findings. Mike Eddy, a former chief director of the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service with 30 years of experience within the fire services industry, Aaron Wright, a chartered accountant, and John Redden, a public fire protection specialist, reviewed the service. They concluded the Windsor Fire Department was providing an excellent service for the region at a fair cost.

Later in the year, West Hants council indicated they did not want a formal contract with the WFD, but an arrangement similar to the one the fire department has with the Town of Windsor. In November, they presented the WFD with a list of seven concerns or issues they wanted addressed.

The WFD executive returned to council Feb. 24, 2014 to present their response to the questions. At that time, the fire chief requested a chance to meet with West Hants staff to try to work through some of the remaining issues. That request was denied.

At a committee of the whole meeting the following night, West Hants CAO Cheryl Chislett noted that their legal advisors suggested they not make any formal motions pertaining to the fire department until the outstanding conflict of interest investigation involving Coun. Victor Swinamer was settled. They could, however, still discuss the topic.

The alleged conflict of interest that involves Swinamer, who is the fire chief's father-in-law, is currently being investigated by the attorney general's office. Council requested that the provincial authority investigate to see if Swinamer was in the wrong for voting on matters pertaining to the WFD. Swinamer only began doing so after West Hants council made a motion instructing staff to “begin the process of establishing an all-inclusive fire protection service” for the area served by Windsor Fire Department.

Also at the February meeting, Chislett noted it's the responsibility of staff to do the legwork for negotiating services.

“It's not council's mandate to negotiate contracts,” she said at the meeting. “It's staffs' responsibility to negotiate contracts, come back to council for final approval. You may or may not ever accept anything we recommend. That's your right to do that.”

Staff was not instructed to resume talks with the WFD.

 

Payment issues

In addition to the aforementioned items, council made a motion April 9, 2013 to change how they fund the Windsor Fire Department. Instead of providing lump sum payments several times a year, council opted to issue payment only when detailed receipts were presented. This decision only affects the WFD, and not the other volunteer fire departments serving the county.

Although the WFD has continued to provide fire protection to West Hants, they have not received any payment since that motion passed. The WFD has also not provided any receipts to the municipality.

Stay tuned to the website for an in-depth look at the amount owing, and the financial situation currently facing the Windsor Fire Department.

 

 

Letter topics already addressed

Burgess says he feels the executive already addressed much of council's concerns earlier in the year and questions how much clearer they can be.

Burgess provided the need for a new fire department as an example. At their special meeting with West Hants Feb. 24, Burgess indicated a new fire station was not needed at that time, but could be revisited in seven to 10 years.

“We still stand by that. Nothing has changed,” said Burgess. “As far as we're concerned, that's not on the table. There was no opposition to our presentation that night about it so we assumed they were alright with that.”

Burgess said he feels they could work through the outstanding issues with West Hants staff if given the chance to do so.

“We know we can work with West Hants staff,” said Burgess. “We know we can have a service agreement probably ready in a matter of a week or two, if we're allowed to get to that (stage)... Unfortunately, we are not allowed to do that at this point.”

 

 

Organizations: Windsor Fire Department, West Hants council, South West Hants Fire Society Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service

Geographic location: Windsor, Hants, Falmouth West Hants Town of Windsor Hants County Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Citizen
    April 29, 2014 - 10:51

    So if Windsor does have this money what are they saving for? Do they just save for fire trucks?

  • John
    April 28, 2014 - 08:11

    1. West Hants does not have to advise WFD that they are going to send a register letter or advise on what they will discuss. Again, they are making a formal document with a deadline to receive answers to questions they have asked previously but have not received an answer. They left no option to West Hants other than to create a register letter with a deadline to get those answers. Could have been avoided if a response was sent. Not hard to do. 2. West Hants has every right to commission a study to weigh their options as to pay WFD or create their own. This is just good business and wise use of tax payers’ funds. Why would WFD waste the residents taxes to hire people to do their own study on this? Of course they are going to say it is ok, that doesn't mean that West Hants can't do it as efficient and own their own assets. It is due diligent for West Hants to review their options. This is very responsible to see what is the best value. 3. Would you or any other resident in any area pay a bill that you have no idea what you are paying for? NO. My question would be, Why wouldn't WFD just send the detailed listed of expenditure? If you have nothing to hide just send it if you want the money reimbursed. Again, this is just responsible business for West Hants. 4. When Burgess is running West Hants then he can make the decisions for West Hants. He isn't. 5. Instead of people overstepping their boundaries in areas they have NO right to they should DISCUSS in a respectful manner like an adult instead of trying to manipulate the public with these childish rants. Don't be jealous West Hants is doing well and making good decision and your failing and want their money. Stop your foolishness, prove the receipts for your expense if you want reimbursement. Come on.

    • HA
      April 28, 2014 - 10:57

      1.) West Hants did receive a response from the Executive of WFD, it just wasn't the response they wanted to hear. 2.) Sure West Hants has every right to commision a study. But to post a job description and then change the duties of that job once the person is hired is a low blow to the person they hired and to the WFD. The job was for a Fire Advisor for West Hants. But at no time was the employee tasked to research or talk to any other departments. Only to cost out a new fire station. To do a proper study there should have been a team in place, not just one individual. 3.)Paying a bill for fire protection is no different then paying a bill for police protection or paying a bill for garbage collection. 4.)The CAO and staff are supposed to run West Hants with direction from council. But it seems the warden doesn't trust them with this task and wants to run it himself with his good ol boys club.5.) West Hants is over stepping their boundaries now with dealing directly with the WFD Executive. West Hants staff should be working with WFD Executive to come to a resolution to the problem. Unfortunately the warden seems to think he runs the show and forbid staff from working with the WFD Executive. How are issues supposed to be worked out if their staff aren't allowed to talk to the Executive? West Hants council says they want to be fair across the board yet no other departments are required to submit receipts in order to be paid. So is the Chief expected to put these expenses on his credit card while he waits for west hants to decide if it's an acceptable expense?

    • citizen2
      April 28, 2014 - 12:52

      If the WFD has not received any money for 2 years(over $500,000), where are they finding over 1 million $ in order to operate? Do they have a slush fund? Maybe West Hants is over paying their share. Does the WFD have a statement showing a year end report? It appears that the WFD is not being honest.

    • John
      April 30, 2014 - 09:27

      Reply sounds like a disgruntled x employee. Maybe we know why they are a X employee. West Hants does not have to answer to the Windsor Council. I have a job description and I have changes and added duties daily. It called life. I think West Hants seems to be doing pretty well with their staff and financially. Well we can TRUST the numbers we are seeing and no threats of selling assets that were donated to its residents.

    • Tom
      April 30, 2014 - 14:14

      What's sad is that the "we don't have to answer to anybody" is what's going to destroy these regions. We need to all work together, ultimately right now it really looks to me like West Hants is bullying because of the fact that they have the surrounding area of Windsor when ultimately before Windsor there was no West Hants. If we just worked together EVERYBODY would be better off. Enough of the "We're better than you" attitude - it really sounds foolish.

  • Stephen
    April 27, 2014 - 20:09

    I have a question for the citizens of Windsor, West Hants and all the fire departments in West Hants. Why does the Municipality of West Hants treat Windsor differently than the other departments when it comes to the funding arrangement? Should not all fire departments be treated the same??

    • fff
      April 28, 2014 - 14:15

      I think that is a very narrow minded way of looking at things. Of course every department is going to be different, Hantsport works between two different municipalities, Windsor has a town AND a municipality so why would they be the same?

  • Kim Frank
    April 27, 2014 - 19:38

    Here are the most recent figures for costs for departments that service the West Hants area: Southwest Hants Dept. 782 civics 89250.00 117.13/civic Windsor Fire Dept. (West Hants catchment) 2967 civic, 497595.00 167.71/civic Walton Dept. 193 civics 35482.00 189.84/civic Hantsport Dept. 283 civics 55124.00 194.78/civic Brooklyn Dept. 2053 civics 483032.00 235.28/civic Summerville Dept. 808 civics 274733.00 340.02/civic These costs are those that West Hants pays to each department for the coverage to West Hants civics. These numbers are for the 2013-14 year and the most up to date figures. I believe that if you asked the CAO and Director of Finance they would agree with these numbers and this is the correct per civic cost. Keep in mind that the per civic cost for WFD also includes coverage to our senior citizen/nursing homes, the majority of the large commercial base and industrial base.

    • Andrew
      April 28, 2014 - 10:38

      A good way of measuring is cost per assessed value as that is a comparable number. Do you have statistics like that? Do you know how we compare to other areas? Are the costs comparable in and out of province. If so this argument should be over.

  • HA
    April 27, 2014 - 17:58

    In this day and age where several municipalities are combining services to help save money, I find it funny that west hants and their handful of supporters thinks it's a great idea to go out on their own with untrained personnel and used equipment.

    • John
      April 29, 2014 - 07:35

      It's called having some assets for what your paying for instead of giving money to others to create them and have the write offs and the funding to update etc. Find it funny how you think this is ok. Rent an apartment or buy your own home.

    • Re jon
      April 29, 2014 - 19:52

      Jon that's a great idea ! Let us buy some snow plows and garbage trucks while we're at it! Then we shoild start our own medical service! The possibilities are endless!

    • HA
      April 30, 2014 - 17:03

      When you buy a house you're making an investment. Houses generally raise in value as the market increases. Wanting to invest in assets such as fire trucks and equipment which depreciate in value makes no sense at all.

  • citizen2
    April 27, 2014 - 11:57

    Why does the WFD not offer the same agreement to West Hants as it does to Windsor? How can Windsor afford a paid fire chief when it obviously cannot pay for one? Please outline the costs for Windsor and West Hants fire coverage so we residents can make our own decision.

    • citizen1
      April 27, 2014 - 15:28

      We wont need to make our own decision on this issue, our council has already made up their minds. I can't wait for this last plea for a better deal to fail. Then we can get on with construction of our own fire service away from the tyrany of the WFD. I am looking forward to signing up to volunteer for a better fire service for west hants.

    • Citizen
      April 27, 2014 - 17:21

      So when were you kicked out of Windsor fire? And if you haven't registered before what makes you or any citizens that you'll join now? Just sounds like some sour former members to me. Good to see who could protect our communities in the future -LOL

    • citizen1
      April 28, 2014 - 13:15

      In reply, I find it very amusing because it is past the point of repair. I have been told that once Brooklyn gets it's new aerial fire truck, Windsor won't be needed and everything can be covered off with mutual aid, until a new station is built. Windsor's bullying tactics wont work any longer.

    • Ryan
      April 28, 2014 - 14:33

      @citizen1. How are you going to provide a better service? It will take some time before you get to the same level of a well established fire dept. Sounds like a spot for a bunch of bitter ex WFD members to go hang out and be in charge. I'd be interested to see how quickly Windsor will have to come bail your new dept out on calls because they'll barely be able to get trucks on the road.

    • Ryan
      April 28, 2014 - 19:42

      @citizen1. Brooklyn is getting an aerial? Talk about wasting money.

    • Tom
      April 28, 2014 - 19:43

      Sounds like a pissing match between Brooklyn and Windsor to me, honestly. I've spoken with both Windsor and Brooklyn firefighters and neither seem to have significant problems with each other and the only ones who have problems are the executives of both. Again - sounds like members that have been KICKED OUT of a fire department that are kicking up a stink because they can't play anymore.

    • citizen2
      April 29, 2014 - 09:51

      citizen. What makes you think that the commenters on here were kicked out of the WFD. I think some left because the WFD may not be forthcoming to all the residents. What are they hiding? How can they operate when West Hants owes them over $1,000,000?