Cape Breton Regional Municipality's volunteer and unionized firefighters appear to have called a truce in a dispute over high-angle rope rescues.
At CBRM's fire and emergency services committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors were told that fire management had worked out a deal that would allow volunteer departments from outside Sydney to attend high-angle rescue calls in the former city, even if some of the volunteer members are also in the union representing Sydney firefighters.
Rod Beresford, Westmount Volunteer Fire Department chief and chair of the regional volunteer chiefs association, said the deal is good news, even though it took several weeks for councillors to weigh in on the matter.
"What I really was pleased to hear was that these councillors do support the volunteers," he said. "They were just waiting for the timing to be right so that it could be discussed among more of them, so that they're all coming out on the same page."
Earlier this month, the volunteer chiefs association expressed concern over a complaint within the union about its members — sometimes called "two-hatters" — who work in the career service and volunteer in departments in their home community.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents CBRM's career fire service, says it has a longstanding — yet unenforced — rule that prevents union members from volunteering, because that could take work from unionized members.
The chiefs association said that union rule could lead to a loss of valuable volunteers.
Deputy fire chief Chris March, CBRM's acting chief, says with high-rise buildings and construction cranes in Sydney, it would be beneficial to have career firefighters trained on high-angle rescues. (Tom Ayers/CBC)
CBRM's acting fire chief Chris March said the issue came to a head over high-angle rescue, which is currently available from four volunteer departments in Sydney Mines, Glace Bay, New Victoria and Sydney River. Firefighters in these communities have training in rappelling down cliffs.
Under a longstanding agreement, those departments have been allowed to answer high-angle calls in Sydney, where the career service does not have the training or equipment to provide it.
March said that agreement will remain in place for now and career firefighters in Sydney will get that training next year, depending on the budget.
"It would be extremely beneficial to augment the other four teams with Sydney as a fifth team, if you will, because we would always have someone as they say 'in the barn,' in the station, ready to respond," he said.
With several high-rise buildings in Sydney and construction cranes working at the regional hospital, the greatest need for high-angle rescues is in the Sydney area, March said.
"We have a high risk here and a plan to mitigate those risks can be had that includes other departments coming in to provide protection, but ideally if you have a risk in your community, you want to be able to handle that risk yourself."
Coun. Gordon MacDonald says volunteers provide an important service to communities throughout CBRM. (Tom Ayers/CBC)
Beresford said the 26 volunteer firefighters who are also in the union just want to know they are valued and supported.
Coun. Gordon MacDonald, a member of the fire committee, said all councillors agree the roughly 700 volunteers in CBRM provide an important service.
He said council stayed out of the dispute until now to keep from throwing fuel on the flames.
"I just want to make sure that all of our volunteers know that the support is there for what they do and do every day," MacDonald said.
"We just want to make sure that it comes through clean ... and we didn't want to muddy the waters so that it upset somebody within the union or the volunteers."
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