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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Fire service unveils major organizational changes


The Niagara-on-the-Lake fire department is revamping its organizational structure to deal with a high rate of staff turnover and excessive workload.

The organizational changes, which are effective immediately, include the creation of a second deputy chief position, chief Nick Ruller told councillors in a report this week.

“The need to retain skilled and experienced staff is important as we strive to improve the workplace culture and ensure that succession planning is prioritized,” he said.

Over the past two to three years, the position of town fire chief has turned over two times, Ruller said.

The job of training officer has seen turnover four times — deputy fire chief twice, fire prevention officer three times and administrative assistant four times in that period, he said.

Workload and the salaries the NOTL department offers are among some of the reasons for the high turnover, Ruller said.

In some cases, people have left Niagara-on-the-Lake for a similar job at another Niagara municipality and received a starting wage more than double what NOTL pays, he said.

“Disorganization and improper staffing have affected the fire department’s ability to effectively deliver exceptional customer service,” the chief reported.

“With recent resources being limited due to staffing shortages, staff members could focus only on their immediate responsibilities, leaving little time, energy, or desire to work outside their current job scope.”

Under Ruller’s reorganization of the Fire and Emergency Services, a new deputy chief position has been created to oversee fire prevention and community risk reduction.

Current fire prevention officer and acting deputy chief Jay Plato is being promoted to that job.

Plato will also be responsible for fire prevention and public education, emergency management, community outreach, data analytics and decision support.

The existing deputy chief position, now vacant, will be responsible for operations and training.

The person in that job will oversee operations, professional development and training, fleet and equipment maintenance, and occupational health and safety.

That job will be filled in the coming weeks, said Lauren Kruitbosch, the town’s community engagement co-ordinator.

The reclassification will not result in adding more full-time employees.

“Although this realignment will result in a second deputy fire chief position, it will be as a result of adding additional responsibilities to one of the fire prevention officer positions through a reclassification,” Ruller explained in his report.

The change will result in a $14,000 budget increase, which has already been included in the proposed 2020 budget.

The service’s training officer position is also vacant as the former employee has been hired by another municipality at double the salary he earned in NOTL, according to the report.

A previous fire prevention officer also left for another municipality where the starting rate was more than twice the current rate paid to NOTL fire prevention officers, Ruller said.

With their new employers, both of the former employees will work 40 hours a week, with alternating four-day weekends, according to the report.

In NOTL, the fire training officer is required to work 35 hours a week and co-ordinate training for more than 100 volunteer firefighters on top of providing training to the service’s 17 new firefighter recruits.

Under the old structure, the lone deputy fire chief had nine direct reports and oversaw the town’s volunteer firefighters.

The annual salaries for a training officer and a fire prevention officer are lower in NOTL, compared to other Niagara municipalities.

In NOTL, a training officer’s salary is $54,000, while a fire prevention officer receives $58,000, according to the report.

Across the regional municipalities, fire prevention staff salaries can range between $52,000 to $144,531.

Both volunteer firefighter training and recruit training curriculums have been impacted negatively by the additional workload during the recruit training program, Ruller said in his report.

“Due to the volunteer service delivery model, the majority of the training officer’s work is completed on evenings and weekends, leaving little time for administrative work during regular office hours,” Ruller said.

The administrative assistant position at the fire department is also vacant at the moment.

The administrative changes have been outlined in the department’s Stabilization and Growth Plan, which has four objectives it will be focusing on over the next 12 to 18 months.

The department’s goals are to make organizational improvements, enhance training and professional development, improve service delivery and commit to continuous improvement.

The fire chief will also be providing quarterly reports to council on the plan’s progress.