By Chris Lewis | Sept. 24
The Town of Bay Roberts has questions for the province’s Fire and Emergency Services Department.
In the past, the Town of Bay Roberts has passed along a number of requests to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fire Services board, seeking some additions to the community’s fire department. Those requests, however, have not had much success according to council and they want to know why.
In order to track down those answers, council held one of its public meetings earlier this month in the Bay Arena’s upstairs office space to allow space for some visitors to attend; namely, Harbour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Parsons and the province’s Director of Fire Services, Derek Simmons.
That is who the meeting opened up with. Before getting to any of the other items on the agenda, Mayor Phillip Wood noted the most recent request sent in from the Town was for a compressor, but that request had been denied. That night, the request was on the agenda again.
“We haven’t had a lot of success lately with Fire and Emergency Services for equipment. Essentially, the Town has been purchasing a lot of the equipment,” Wood said.
The last time Bay Roberts was successful in its requests was in 2015-16 when the Bay Roberts Volunteer Fire Department was awarded $238,713 for a new fire truck. Wood said the previous truck to that dated from the early 1990s.
The town’s director of protective services, Justin Parsons, pointed out the compressor the brigade is currently working with was purchased in 1995. As equipment technologies have improved over the years, Parsons said the department saw it necessary to seek a newer compressor to stay on par with what a lot of departments in the province are working with. He suggested the provincial government may have overlooked the fact that the Bay Roberts Fire Department is a regional service.
“We see a need to reach out and go for a 6,000-PSI system to fill the bottles. The Town has been maintaining (this system) and we’re filling bottles for regional departments. So, it is a regional service, and we’d like to know, I guess, why we were denied and if there’s anything we can do with our applications in the future,” Parsons said.
Simmons explained the process behind the provincial government’s funding decisions when it comes to emergency services. It operates on a cost-shared system, he said, with the province splitting the cost with municipalities on a 60/40 or 80/20 ratio depending on the size of a municipality’s population. The final decision can also be swayed by what sort of equipment is requested, he added.
This past year, the budget allocation for the entire department was $353,000 – a number that can differ each year, but still acts as the total amount of money the provincial department has to divvy out for the government’s share of all the approved requests made that year.
“So, the process is that everyone submits their application, we review them, and then we make a recommendation to the Minister based on the applications that come in. The Minister will then approve them from there,” Simmons said.
The total requests for this past year came to some $2,334,865 from 82 different groups – approximately $1.5-million more than was in the budget. The Department could only fund about 23 per cent of applications made, which still saw 45 projects approved.
Bay Roberts fell among the 37 municipalities that got nothing this time around.
“So, we’ve got a problem right away,” Simmons said. “Applications can range from a municipality applying for $2,600 for equipment, to some others applying for $126,000 for equipment. It was a very wide range … The average request was around $28,400. We’ve had dozens that were in the 50, 60, 70, $80,000 range.”
Simmons said normally, the biggest requests they get are for new trucks, but this year it seemed that equipment was at the top of most fire departments’ priority lists.
The Town of Bay Roberts’ request for the air compressor, among other pieces of equipment, came to $57,282. The province’s share on that would have been approximately $41,000.
“If the Town had gotten that $41,000, that would have worked out to be about 12 per cent of the entire budget,” Simmons said.
The bureaucrat said that he has a process he follows as he goes down through the list of requests, starting with those he would consider a priority. While he admitted that the majority of requests would be considered a priority by most, it is his job to dwindle that down. As he did so this year, his list still came to a cost of about $700,000 – close to double the budget he had to work with.
“From what I’ve already looked at as valuable projects, I’ve got to cut those down to the $353,000. Bay Roberts was in that first pot of money, though, so if we had $700,000 to spend, (the Town) would have gotten its compressor. But, we don’t have that, so I had to go back and start cutting again,” he said.
Simmons admitted the process is a difficult one as he tries to find a good middle ground for those who have high priority and high cost requests.
“I agree that this is a regional service, because you are providing a service to those other fire departments,” he added. “So, there’s no question that this is a valuable project. We haven’t forgotten about you. You aren’t left out in the wilderness. However, it comes down to who do I take money away from so that we can fund Bay Roberts’ project, or any other municipality?”
Simmons and MHA Pam Parsons did agree to, in the future, work together with either the Town’s Director of Protective Services or CAO Nigel Blackwood to ensure the next application is done in such a way that it will enhance its probability of meeting a successful outcome.
“Ultimately, the goal is about how we get there. It’s certainly a priority, but it really is a regional priority,” Parsons said.