Cooler heads required to calm West Hants fire services issue

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on June 23, 2014

The countdown is on for the Windsor Fire Department's coverage to the county to cease, and that pending deadline is causing much undue stress and bickering.

In fact, it's causing a rift in the community.

The dispute is pitting neighbour against neighbour as they argue over semantics and perceived or real conflicts of interest. It's not only a hot button issue around here, people across the country — some with no ties to Hants County whatsoever — are watching, and talking, about the fire services schism.

After learning that insurance premiums are going to more than double, or triple, should the volunteer firefighting force withdraw coverage to the county due to a lack of payment, residents and business owners alike have gotten pretty hot under the collar that the situation hasn't been rectified yet.

And rightly so. This situation should never have been allowed to get to this point.

In an interview with the Hants Journal, John Redden, a public fire protection specialist at Fire Underwriters Survey, said insurance premiums will rise — and rise substantially — if the municipality and WFD can't postpone the termination deadline and work out an agreement.

Redden, and his colleagues across the country, review every area protected by fire departments and assign a grade. That grade directly relates to insurance rates. Windsor currently carries a class 2 residential grade, and class 5 commercial grade, which equates to considerable cost savings. If the WFD pulls the plug on their longstanding service to the county — an agreement that has been in place for more than 60 years — then the nearby West Hants communities that currently enjoy low insurance premiums will suffer the consequences.

Falmouth, Vaughans, Martock, Garlands Crossing, and the commercial industries along Highway 101 heading into Windsor are among the areas that will be hardest hit. Even if the municipality enacts a Plan B to provide emergency coverage, the fire protection levels will still be downgraded in those areas.

It's a financial burden that residents, and business owners, simply can't afford.

Even though Redden is an expert in the field, there have been allegations that the figures he's extolling are padded; that a commercial property wouldn't see a rate increase of 150 to 200 per cent in insurance premiums.

The Windsor Elms Village's board of directors didn't take the figures at face value. They are one of the many organizations to contact their insurance provider to see what, if any, impact a grade change would have. The answer they received was so alarming it caused them to pen a letter to council, requesting the county to immediately pay the bill owed to the WFD for 14 months of back service.

There are far too many personalities at play, too many accusations and allegations, and too many consequences for this to ever be sorted out locally. We need the WFD and West Hants council to make some concessions and get to mediation. We need to demand leadership from both sides — which means asking them to do what's best for the community.

We are all at their mercy to do what's right.

As the clock ticks down, we must pray that cooler heads prevail. West Hants council and the WFD have the power to strike a truce and head to mediation. Anything less is unacceptable and will result in another black mark in the history of this fine region.