The gallery at City Hall was a sea of red Monday evening.
Supporters of North Battleford Firefighters Local 1756, the union representing fulltime firefighters in the city, were out in full force at a meeting of city council. About 25 supporters were on hand wearing red – the colour of firefighters’ uniforms – to oppose layoffs that would bring the contingent of fulltime firefighters down from 16 to 12.
The group of supporters in attendance did not consist of firefighters, but did include members of the public. Two members of the local NDP, former provincial candidate Rob Feist and nomination candidate Amber Stewart, were also in attendance wearing red.
The union has told the News-Optimist that two layoff notices have already been issued effective Sept. 1. Another two positions that have become vacant are not being filled.
One of the firefighters’ supporters in the gallery, North Battleford business owner Annette Sigstad, said their main concern was about safety. She repeated concerns that the fire engines would be sent out with only two or three firefighters on the crew – not enough to meet National Fire Protection Association requirements.
“The NFPA standards states that they have to have four firefighters to enter any structure at any time. They need a team in and a team out in case anything happens,” said Sigstad. "That’s our concern, is the safety of the citizens of North Battleford.”
While nothing came up during the council agenda about the firefighters layoffs, Mayor Ryan Bater had plenty to say afterwards. In particular, he railed against suggestions that it was council who called for the 25 per cent cut.
“There’s a suggestion out there that council has mandated a 25 per cent cut to firefighters. That’s not true,” said Bater.
“Council has asked administration to work within a budget, and the budget for this year has changed.”
He said the four positions being discussed were “relatively new hires” taken on a few years ago “in order to accommodate a contract with the RM of North Battleford.”
That contract was discontinued by the RM, who have since formed their own volunteer fire department. Bater also noted the province has also discontinued their contract for fire services for Saskatchewan Hospital.
Losing those two contracts amounted to a loss of revenue to the fire department of $369,000, said Bater.
“What council has asked management to do is figure out a solution to address that revenue shortfall. Administration has invited the union to work with our management team to find a solution. I know that layoffs are a last resort. But we are in negotiations, I can’t talk about their particulars, and I think it’s council’s hope that a solution is found.”
Bater seemed to indicate layoffs were not set in stone.
“Hopefully they can be avoided. There’s still time to find a solution.”
The mayor also had words directed towards the RM of North Battleford’s decision.
“We are about to see three different fire halls with three different fire departments within five kilometers of each other serving a population of less than 20,000. That is an incredibly inefficient use of taxpayer resources within the region. The city had been working on developing a regional force and that has been rebuffed by one of our partners and that’s how we got here today.”