Firefighters around the province are busy this week promoting Fire Prevention Week and using the opportunity to promote their vital role in our communities.
What we do not see during the week, and often throughout the year, is the inequity and underfunding in our firefighting services in Newfoundland and Labrador.
There are the well-paid firefighters and full-time fire departments in St. John’s, Paradise, Mount Pearl, Corner Brook and here in Conception Bay South. These municipalities pass on the cost of the fire and emergency services to their taxpayers.
Firefighting is not cheap and salaries comprise a large part of the cost. Full-time firefighters in large centres are very well paid. According to labour market data on the federal government website, more than 75 per cent of firefighters earn at least $50,000. St. John’s firefighters received a substantial wage increase in 2012 and at that time, the average annual wage was $69,000.
Here in Conception Bay South, we have seen our fire department evolve from a volunteer one, to a few paid firefighters, to the current one which is a full-time fire department of 29, complemented by 25 volunteers. The growth has obviously added to the cost of fire services for our town, and funding will increase as we get a new fire hall in Kelligrews and have to hire more personnel to respond to residential and business growth.
The other side of the firefighting story in our province is the volunteer fire department. Most of these departments in smaller communities receive funding from their municipalities; however, many of them still raise money for equipment and training.
Fire departments, like many volunteer groups, are struggling with recruitment and retention of volunteers. Some municipalities are able to provide an annual honorarium for firefighters, but it is still a volunteer service.
These fire departments should not have to be selling tickets or having car washes to raise money. The provincial government is getting a good return on its limited investment in fire departments and should be allocating more money. These volunteers are not only promoting prevention or responding to community fires. Firefighters are on the scene of accidents on our province’s highways, they fight forest fires, provide emergency services during floods, storms and the like.
In a brief to government a few years ago, the N.L. Association of Firefighters noted that the province spent just under $5 million on fire services and that the larger cities and towns spend almost $30 million providing the same service.
An example of the province’s commitment is that in this year’s budget, $1.5 million is earmarked for new fire trucks and $380,000 for new equipment.
The inequity and underfunding are real, and while we are far from seeing full-time firefighters in small towns, there must be better funding for these volunteer groups who are so integral to our lives.
C.B.S.’s new council is holding what is perhaps the first opportunity for public comment into the town’s 2014 budget. Residents, business owners and community groups can make a written submission or get an appointment to make a public submission.
Written submissions must be submitted by noon on Tuesday, Oct. 15. The same deadline applies for making an appointment for a public submission, which can be presented to the town on Wednesday, Oct. 17 beginning at 7 p.m. To submit your presentation, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it off at the town hall. To arrange a public presentation, contact Jody at 834-7079.
Topsail United Church
Topsail United Church’s annual harvest celebrations take place this weekend. The Thanksgiving breakfast is Saturday morning from 8 to 11. Monday’s events include the annual sale, lunch and evening Jiggs dinner. To reserve tickets for the dinner, call the church office at 834-4567.
Joan Butler is a lifelong resident of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.