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Fire Services Committee established for Bradford and Innisfil

The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury and the Town of Innisfil form Interim Joint Fire Services Committee in step toward merging fire services
Miriam King/BradfordToday

The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury and the Town of Innisfil have come together to form the Interim Joint Fire Services Committee. The committee was formed to work towards consolidating Innisfil Fire & Rescue Services and Bradford West Gwillimbury Fire & Emergency Services into one service.

"To quote our CAO, it's like a marriage," said Innisfil Coun. Kenneth Fowler, who will act as Vice Chair of the committee. "We're investigating all aspects of it (consolidation of the fire departments) before we commit to something that will have long-term effects, be they positive or negative. We need to know what we're delving into, what the benefits are overall, and what we can do to get the most out of this."

The committee is chaired by Bradford Coun. Jonathan Scott—who was nominated by Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin—and Vice Chaired by Fowler. Along with Scott and Fowler, it’s made up of Dollin, Bradford Deputy Mayor James Leduc, Bradford Coun. Raj Sandhu, and Innisfil Coun. Bill Van Berkel.

“Today (Tuesday, Aug. 30) was the first meeting and we went over a series of different tasks that we have to undertake,” said Scott. “How would we govern a new joint consolidated service? What would that mean for physical assets from two independent forces? What would that mean for labour and collective agreements? And ultimately, what would that mean for budgeting? The conversation was pretty preliminary but the one thing we all agreed on is that we want to make sure the women and men at both fire services are at the centre of the decision and have their voices heard.”

The committee will meet three more times until the new term of council and then have three more meetings from there to take it to February 2023 when the hope is the committee will be able to present to both town councils what consolidation will look like. The new councils for both towns will then have the ability to authorize the consolidation as part of the 2023 budget.

“It’s an opportunity that the police force went through almost 30 years ago and that’s resulted not only in savings and efficiencies, but also a higher caliber service,” said Scott. “We really talked about wanting to make sure we hear from both fire forces directly. One thing we’ll be doing is sitting down to hear from firefighters what they think of the idea and how they think it could work and what concerns they might have. We want this to be a really inclusive process where everyone feels heard and part of the process.”

"Ultimately, both towns are seeking greater service for less burden on the taxpayer," added Fowler. "We can get better training and response times, it's a win-win all for less money overall. It's incredibly important to look into this thoroughly because the majority of medical emergencies are attended to by firefighters and this will have a major increase in service. In the grand scheme of things, it's for the betterment of both communities and something we don't take lightly."

Several months ago, both towns received a report from Ernst & Young explaining the opportunities for better service efficiency and cost savings if the towns consolidated the two separate fire services into one—similar to how South Simcoe Police Services serves both towns.

"It was presented approximately six months ago and we've had multiple meetings and reports on it," said Fowler. "It's something we've viewed favourably as a council as a whole because it's for the betterment of all Innisfil residents, as well as Bradford residents."

Both towns separately went through the report and passed a recommendation at council that they would endorse consolidation in principal and set up the Interim Joint Fire Services Committee to work through the details of what the consolidation would look like.

“One thing we’re looking at if Bradford and Innisfil are merged as a single force, there’s a much bigger geography that would have to be covered,” Scott explained. “So, we’d look at how service levels need to improve, how we afford that, how we put everything together to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck, the best service, and also the best system for the actual firefighters who put themselves on the line.”

The process of merging began a few years ago when the towns agreed that rather than hiring two separate fire chiefs for the towns' fire services, they’d hire one to oversee both departments. Fire Chief Brent Thomas has overseen both departments since September 27, 2021.

“That sort of got the ball rolling because that meant we saved the cost of a full fire chief between the two towns,” said Scott. “Over the course of his tenure so far, he (Thomas) was able to put the Ernst & Young study together to figure out that there’s not really a lot of options to find more efficiencies without consolidation entirely into one service.”