The Cape Breton Regional Municipality's fire services are facing a big budget crunch and the volunteer chiefs are hoping to have a say in how that gets solved.
Craig MacNeil, deputy chief of the regional fire service based in Sydney, N.S., said the cost of operating a paid firefighter service and 34 volunteer departments is skyrocketing and it's not sustainable.
"To keep 130 pieces of heavy equipment on the road and 900 volunteer and career staff, the budget itself will be very close to being double and we just don't have the tax rate to pay for that," he said.
"The cost of equipment in the last four years on average has gone up 42.14 per cent, so just for the 27 county departments, that's over a half-a-million-dollar ask."
MacNeil said self-contained breathing equipment has more than doubled from $7,800 per firefighter to $17,900 over the same span of time. He said is putting in a budget request this year for $3.35 million for six fire trucks. One is just a half-ton pickup truck.
Six years ago, the same trucks would have cost just under $1 million.
"Capital costs are definitely going to be a struggle this year," he said.
Westmount volunteer fire chief Rod Beresford, who chairs the regional chiefs association, says the volunteer departments are willing to change, but not necessarily to amalgamate. (Tom Ayers/CBC)
Westmount volunteer fire chief Rod Beresford, who also chairs the regional chiefs association, said some of the chiefs were in on pre-budget talks with CBRM staff and the departments want to be in on the solutions, rather than have them imposed.
"The sooner we have these conversations and begin to make recommendations on changes, the better off the whole fire service will be," he said.
The volunteer chiefs and CBRM's fire service management have agreed to strike a committee to consider changes.
They're calling it right-sizing, but no one has explained exactly what that means.
A 2016 consultant's report called for a reduction in the number of volunteer departments, but that hasn't happened.
In an interview after Wednesday's CBRM fire and emergency services committee meeting, Beresford said right-sizing doesn't necessarily mean amalgamation.
"As it is right now, it would appear that there's too many fire departments offering too many of the same services, so the idea of the right-sizing, it might not necessarily mean fewer fire departments," he said.
"What it may mean is different fire departments offer different services, so some departments might be a little bit more specialized in one thing over another."
MacNeil said he does not have any preconceived ideas about what right-sizing means, but he's excited to start talking with chiefs about it.
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