Countering a false narrative.
The following are my own comments and mine alone. I do not speak for the union or the department.
Its quite disheartening that I am writing this to say the least. However as some of you know the outgoing Mayor of Saint John has once again taken to social media to attack emergency service workers and more specifically the cities Firefighters. Disclaimer. I have been a firefighter in Saint John for 34 years. We are used to being attacked by some politicians and their supporters over the years. That's fine. Its their prerogative and right to do so. What is not right is posting mis information and lies while in a position of authority. Like it or not his voice carries a lot of weight. Some of his supporters would fall in line if he said the earth was flat. I am going to attempt to correct the obvious inaccuracies. I am going through his blog line by line so forgive me if its a bit scattered. It was rambling at times and he repeats the same thing numerous times. If I am not sure of an answer I wont post it. He has blocked me on social media because he accuses me of posting lies. Ironic. I believe he blocked me so no one on his social media will see he is wrong.
First I need to address the quote “ Im choosing to pass this along publicly to you in my concern for the community, however you should be hearing this from the city manager himself and the Chief directly”. Is he trying to say neither man is doing their job? Perhaps they didn't address it because its not accurate or valid?
He mentions call volume. First off call volume does not determine staffing and resourcing for fire load and risk. Ask your insurance company. “ there were approximately 365 fire related calls in SJ” Hard to answer this one as he didnt mention what year this is from so no one can accurately respond. What I will point out is there is not a fire dept. in the world that just responds to fires. Hazardous material spills and leaks, high angle rescue, water rescue, off road rescue, medical emergencies, flooding, etc. etc. If he doesn't want Fire dealing with these emergencies who would he select? He states calls have dropped 56% over 12 years. Again hard to completely answer to this as he doesn't say if this is using 2020 numbers as covid reduced call volumes as all agencies tried to mitigate contact spread. Call volume has been quite consistent over my career other than i believe it was 2014 that we had over 10000 calls and E1 was the 3rd busiest Engine company in the country so yes calls have reduced since that time.
We hire photographers to take pictures of our scenes. We do not hire, pay or ask anyone to take photos. Photo journalists share their pictures with us. Plain and simple. Is media taken to task for reporting on incidents?
We communicate day to day activities to make you feel scared. First if you check our FB page we do not post day to day activities. We do post active incidents so people can avoid areas. The intent is not to scare its to inform and assure the public we are dealing with the emergency.
We donate to political parties. Not true. “ We bargain in bad faith. “ during the last contract negotiations the appointed mediator scolded the city for not bringing anything to the table. What would that tell you? “ by attacking the rare member of the public or elected official that speaks out”. The union has never attacked anyone in any such manner. I have seen attacks coming in the other direction though.
“ Police and fire receive the single largest investment at $54.5 million” . Incorrect. Fire budget is $23.6 million and Police budget is just around $26 million. He has added in EMO, dispatch and oddly streetlighting to get to 54.5 million. Padding the numbers.
“ Sarnia Ont for example has over 60 industrial sites”. This is true. However each site is mandated to have full time Firefighting capacity on site. Sarnia fire rarely if ever respond to these industrial sites. In SJ we routinely deal with emergencies in industry.
“ Wages have risen 80% over the past 15 years and each FF now costs the city $133K”. Wages have risen over 15 years, but not 80%. He uses a different percentage numerous times in the article so i am not sure which to respond to. First off we don't cost an average of $133K. He continues to add in the special pension payment. The payment was mandated by the province. It is not a benefit to the employees but a benefit to the city and tax payers. How? The city was responsible for the shortfall in the pension for numerous reasons including “ payment holidays “ the special payment actually saves the city $10 million per year for 15 years and is close to being paid up. regarding wage increases. There has been a significant increase to wages over 15 years. Cant dispute it. However over my 34 years we have averaged under 2% increases per year even factoring in the past 15 years. We had several wage freezes and some 1%. He rails about arbitration but neglects to say the city has applied for arbitration in some cases. the arbitration reports are available on the Provincial website and go into great detail how they arrive at their decision.
As for the pension he states we receive multi million dollar pensions. Maybe if I live to be 120. What is left out is our personal contributions. By the time I retire this fall I will have close to a half million ( including interest ) contributed out of my own pocket.
the pension plan ran into trouble for several reasons. City's payment holidays, Extravagant buy outs for senior workers who were up for retirement anyways, pushing members out on disability instead of retraining ( this has been corrected ). The unions agreed all contribute 25% more for a period of 3 years back in 2009. At the end of the 3 years the city couldn't show us where the money went. When we agreed to switch to the shared risk model our contributions increased by 41%! That part always gets left out. Keep in mind we could have chosen to do nothing and the city would have had to wrap up the plan and pay out close to $500 million. they would have been legally required to do so even if it meant selling off their assets. We chose to be part of the solution instead. By the way the increase in contributions came with a reduction of benefits. My pension for example with be almost 15% lower than under the old plan.
“ The 2020 Fire budget is estimated at $24,9 million.” First off budgets are not estimated. They have an exact dollar amount. If you pull up the city operations budget is $23.3M.
Other cities use a mix of Volunteer and paid firefighters” . These are known as composite departments. The fact is most cities have moved away from vols for various reasons. Moncton and KV are recent examples. In the 2009 underwriters fire review ( yes we have had many reviews ) they list off the costs of supplementing with Vols. Yes even volunteers have a cost. In fact the city of Hamilton's vols are unionized and make more than our holiday relief firefighters. They also only respond to rural areas and not the city proper.
“ less stringent rules on number of firefighters per truck”. Less stringent. The NFPA standard is a minimum of 4 FFs per truck. The standard is a safety issue. Each member of the truck has a specific and necessary role to play. If you wish send me a note and Ill explain each. NFPA is the national fire protection association. They are a safety body similar to CSA. They are not union affiliated. They routinely conduct scientific experiments with fire growth and extinguishment to determine these standards. They have determined that 4 is minimum and 5 is optimal. 3 is substandard and increases fire loss. https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Publications-and-media/NFPA-Journal/2013/January-February-2013/The-Experts/Structural-Ops
“ we should only dispatch fire services when necessary for medical calls and not jointly with Ambulance services”. We only respond to certain life threatening calls. FD responds to roughly 30% on ANB calls.
“ The goal is for every jurisdiction at all costs if to raise wages, even if it means jeopardizing public safety.” Not even sure how to answer this as its not just inaccurate but slanderous. The goal is fair wages and benefits and safety. Our own safety is important. The collective agreement is full of safety clauses. Public safety is never placed second.
“ They get 6 figure salaries “. there are ranked officers who do but 90% do not make 6 figures. You can look up salaries on the city website.
“ Negotiations are often one sided and take years”. This is 100% correct but the one sided is on their part. We have always sought to negotiate. In fact we had an agreement in place with the city's negotiating team during one round only to have council reject it and opt for arbitration.
“ A first class FF with 4 years service ( after vacations and stat holidays) works 79x24 hr shits. Not true. First it takes from 4 to 10 years to become 1st class. Secondly someone just promoted to 1st class does not get the same vacation as someone with more years of service. It takes 20 years to reach that. He neglect to say we are given days off for statutory holidays in place of being paid time and a half for working them like almost all workers in the country.
I need to address some of his tables. He lists the FD as having 187 employees in one. The number is closer to 150. He lists the budget as $26 million in one then $24.9 in another. I have already discussed this. Again pull up the operating budget and look for the actual numbers.
I will close with this. I have proudly served the citizens and businesses of SJ for 34 years. It has taken its toll on me physically and mentally. However I would do it again in a heartbeat, but just imagine how discouraging it is for our younger members, many of whom have been laid off. To see their Mayor attack them publicly over and over. It has created a toxic work environment. When we dare counter him we are disciplined or threatened. I have lost many friends and co workers over the years to the hazards of the job. Men far to young. My son is entering the field of Firefighting and I encourage him. Why? Because its what he wants to do. Because choosing a career where you help those in need has rewards far beyond monetary. Because no mater how often certain politicians attack us the general public respects and supports us.
I hope this sheds some light on some controversial statements. Stay safe,