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Thorne addresses concerns with joined fire departments

Lack of firefighters main reason amalgamation was needed, says MRC

Camilla Faragalli
Thorne Oct. 25 2023
The Municipality of Thorne hosted an information session last week to address increasing concern from residents and ratepayers over the amalgamation of the Thorne and Otter Lake fire departments that occurred nearly three years ago.
In recent months, residents of the municipality have raised concerns about budget and management of the amalgamated department with Thorne’s municipal council.
Karen Kelly, mayor of Thorne, said the meeting was called to “let everybody know why we did what we did.”
Julien Gagnon, the public safety coordinator for MRC Pontiac, was one of the five speakers present, and addressed a key cause for the amalgamation early on.
“We seem to be having the same issue across Canada and across North America,” he said. “There’s a harder and harder time to recruit, and the retention of our firefighters is more and more difficult.”
Gagnon said that with the drop in numbers, it is becoming increasingly necessary to amalgamate fire departments, “so we can not only answer calls together, but also to have the same tactics and strategies in place to work together when fighting fire.”
Gagnon added that provincial legislation mandates a minimum number of certified firefighters be available to answer calls at any given time.
“We always require a minimum of eight, and Thorne no longer had eight firefighters,” Gagnon explained, adding that three times that number of firefighters is what’s recommended.
And so in January 2021, an inter-municipal agreement to amalgamate the Thorne and Otter Lake fire departments was made, and the Pontiac North Fire Department was born.
Pontiac North Fire Department director and chief Denis Chaussé cited an increase in 911 calls as another major factor necessitating amalgamation.

“Year after year, your fire department received more demands from the 9-1-1 services,” Chaussé said, addressing the Thorne community.
“We have structural fires, car fires, water fires, bush fires, electric fires… Today we also have motor-vehicle accidents, water rescue, and off-road rescue assistance,” Chaussé said.
Operating costs rising
Chief Chaussé also received questions regarding the budget and spending of the Pontiac North Fire Department.
While the departments are officially amalgamated, budgets are calculated separately for services to each municipality.
Chief Chaussé said the Thorne fire department budget for 2022 was around $77,000, and rose subsequently in 2023 to over $96,000.
The Otter Lake Fire Department budget estimate for 2023 is $221,470.
This brings the Pontiac North Fire Department’s budget to over $300,000.
He cited new equipment, regular inspections and verification of equipment, along with the increasing costs caused by inflation as key factors driving the budget upward.
“When you got cheap equipment, you get cheap results,” said Chaussé, adding the department was investing in higher quality equipment, like leather boots, which he said are ergonomically better for the firefighters than the cheaper rubber boots they’d used previously.
He also reminded residents at the meeting that each firefighter costs the municipality $160 an hour.
Ronnie Vadneau, a Pontiac North firefighter who worked in the Otter Lake Fire Department for 30 years prior to the amalgamation, said he felt that people view firefighters as an expense.
“I don’t think we’re an expense,” Vadneau said. “We’re indispensable.”
Vadneau said he believes the amalgamation should have happened a year prior to when it did.
“It is something that is greatly needed between the two fire departments.”
Mayor Kelly said she believes the concerns of the ratepayers were adequately satisfied by the meeting.
“The majority of them will be happy now,” she said. “They’ll be happy that we had this meeting and they got some of their queries answered.”

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