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Greater Sudbury communities create coalition to address fire service concerns

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A coalition has been formed by residents in the Greater Sudbury communities of Skead and Beaver Lake to raise awareness about their concerns for fire services.

Coalition formed by Beaver Lake and Skead in Greater Sudbury to improve fire services in the communities. June 11, 2024 (Amanda Hicks/CTV Northern Ontario)

The coalition was formed by Beaver Lake Fire Services Committee and Save the Skead Fire Station Committee.

Nicole Everest, representing Skead, said the group wanted to make their voices heard.

"It was really important because the two resolutions that were passed by city council last year have not been responded to by fire services," she said.

Two resolutions about city fire services were passed June 27, 2023.

For Beaver Lake, the directions included that the station remain open and staff work to address worker shortages through volunteer firefighters.

For Skead, the resolution was that staff were to perform repairs necessary to re-open the Skead station immediately and that the costs for renovation be put forward in future draft capital plans based on adequate average staffing levels for volunteers in all stations at that time.

Everest said fire services staff have not met those objectives and said she doesn't understand why the Skead station isn't open.

"Our biggest concern is that the fire station is not reopened. It was repaired. It's been repaired since November," she said.

"We have viable candidates that are almost done their first year of training, they are responding to fires or accidents in Garson and in other areas."

Greater Sudbury Fire Services Chief Joe Nicholls, said the repairs for Skead's fire hall are complete, but staff is needed.

Greater Sudbury Fire Services Chief Joe Nicholls at Tom Davies Square. June 11, 2024 (Amanda Hicks/CTV Northern Ontario)

"It's been repaired in accordance with the motion. And then, they said to 'staff it up,' so we have been recruiting in the Skead area along across the city. But there are challenges, Skead is unique," Nicholls said.

"So when you're restarting that whole program, because I had only one firefighter, none of them have any experience, none of them have any training."

Everest said Skead's pumper truck is currently at the Garson station and she said they were told it's used for training.

"They only train once a month, why is it needed there?" she asked.

Ralph Prentice with the Beaver Lake Fire Services Committee said the biggest issues facing his community regarding fire services is a lack of proper equipment and staffing.

He said when the coalition was formed initially, it was discovered that the communities shared similar concerns.

"We weren't getting the answers that we really wanted and we wanted to know where the various areas of the fire service were coming from and where we could help them, so that we possibly could," Prentice said.

"And then, once we got together as a coalition, we started to find out that the different areas have the same problems."

The coalition said they put in a request to meet with council and fire services, but it was denied.

Nicholls said that there has been communication attempts with the group.

"I can tell you that we have been collaborating with them for years since I've been in this role and even before that, we've been working with the Beaver Lake group to try and recruit fire volunteer firefighters from within the area and with very limited success," he said.

"Right up to including putting door knockers on every single residence in that community."

Volunteers with Beaver Lake and Skead have taken it upon themselves to find volunteer firefighters. They said volunteers are met with weekly trainings or aren't called back.

Everest said she knew of an aspiring volunteer firefighter who waited upwards of a year and didn't receive a call back.

Nicholls said the extensive training is due to the nature of the job.

"We have developed a program. It has been vetted by the Ontario fire marshal and approved," he said.

"Those who have taken the program and passed the first component have passed with 100 per cent success."

In terms of the Beaver Lake Fire Station, Nicholls said fire services is following direction from council.

"Council provided us direction, very clear direction, and we are continuing to follow that direction, as we always do," he said.

"And so that direction will be looking to work towards consolidating that station into Whitefish, which was the direction the council gave us back on June 27 (2023)."

Everest said representatives of the coalition have spoken to members of council and have had positive conversations.

"We've had some very good response and positive support from them. We want to make sure that they are well briefed on our view and our position," she said.

"Our press conference today (Tuesday) was to keep our message out in the community and, clearly, we will be continuing our progress towards creating an awareness of our concerns to ensure that when decision making is being done on the city council that they know what the community wants."

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