Martin C. Barry
The City of Deux-Montagnes is undertaking perhaps the largest reorganization its fire department has ever undergone with an announcement that the city’s staff of part-time firefighters is about to be replaced by a smaller staff of full-timers.
The news was officially revealed by Mayor Denis Martin at the Jan. 16 city council meeting. According to a resolution read out by Councillor Micheline Groulx-Stabile, the fire department, which also serves Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, is obliged to conform to a provincial law which establishes norms for fire prevention and risk coverage.
According to the resolution, the Ministry of Public Security has indicated by decree to the city that the Deux-Montagnes/Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac Fire Department is not respecting its governance obligations related to emergency interventions.
As well, a collective agreement with the department’s current staff of firefighters expired on Dec. 31 2018, and the City of Deux-Montagnes made provisions in its 2020 budget measures to deal with the situation.
As such, a plan by the city, tentatively coming into effect next Sept. 14, will create 16 full-time firefighter positions and six part-time positions to replace the 40 part-time firefighters currently staffing the department, the whole to be negotiated with firefighters’ union representatives.
Change of structure
“This is an important change of structure we are undertaking to meet the norms we are being asked to conform to by the government,” the mayor said during the meeting, providing some background for the decision.
According to the mayor, bringing the fire department up to the standards demanded by the Public Security Ministry will end up costing Deux-Montagnes $300,000 more annually. But at the same time, he admitted that running the fire department as it is now had become increasingly hard.
“Having those 40 part-time positions is difficult when they’re on call,” he said. “It’s harder than ever to get personnel and to have them available when needed. So in order to assure the security of our residents, we decided to move forward with what was being proposed by the government and we will carry out the negotiations keeping this in mind.”
On the brighter side, the city’s chief legal clerk, Jacques Robichaud, noted that conforming to the provincial norms will have the advantage of reducing the City of Deux-Montagnes’ liability should it ever be sued for negligence following a fire that was responded to by the Deux-Montagnes/Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac Fire Dept.
Trois-Rivière was sued
“Just as an example, the City of Trois-Rivières, over the course of the year 2019, was ordered to pay more than $1 million in damages as a result of having neglected to respect the number of firefighters who were required to respond to a fire,” said Robichaud. “So it is not a trivial thing when it comes to the consequences of not respecting the fire risk requirements.”
In an interview following the council meeting, the mayor told North Shore News the proposed structural change will mean four firefighters will be on duty at all times seven days a week.
Keeping costs down
“It was causing problems in terms of the firefighters’ availability,” he said regarding the part-time system, although he acknowledged the low cost meant Deux-Montagnes had until now been operating one of the most cost-efficient fire departments in the region.
However, he noted that cooperative agreements between North Shore municipalities for sharing fire services will also be instrumental to help keep costs down. But in order to comply with those agreements, the Deux-Montagnes/Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac Fire Dept. will need to respect the provincial fire risk norms.