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Windsor Fire rightsizing its fleet, eager to leave West Hants dispute in the past

Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess is looking forward to implementing some long overdue changes at the station.
Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess is looking forward to implementing some long overdue changes at the station.

WINDSOR, N.S. — With the ugliness of the dispute between the Windsor Fire Department and Municipality of West Hants behind them, the town's fire service is ready to move forward into the future.

Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess said they are in the process of rightsizing their fleet, equipment and membership.

Two excess trucks will be sold off shortly, Burgess said, and their membership has been whittled back to a more manageable number largely through attrition, retirement, and people moving away.

The two vehicles being put to tender are a large tanker, which is not required to service Windsor as the town operates on a hydrant system, and a van, that was once used at their substation in Vaughan.

“In 2007, we talked with both councils, at the time, about rightsizing our fleet and our fire station and all that kind of stuff,” said Burgess. “We have not been able to do that obviously with all this uncertainty. Capital planning has been very difficult to say the least.”

An independent arbitrator reviewed the bitter contract dispute between the county and Windsor Fire Department and released his report in June 2017. The municipality and WFD issued a joint press release on June 30, late in the afternoon before a long weekend, announcing the results.

The arbitrator ruled that the fire department owned all of the apparatus that they purchased while contracting their service to the municipality. However, once they continued to provide the county service without a new contract in place, the arbitrator ruled West Hants was owed $517,200. That portion was for the period of time between April 1, 2010 and Oct. 23, 2015, when the Windsor Fire Department officially ceased serving the county.

Burgess said they are in the process of paying that sum back.

“We're prepared to pay them but we're just waiting for the lawyer to get back to us on different things,” said Burgess.

The fire chief says they will be pleased when legal fees stop cutting into their budget.

“There's light at the end of the tunnel. We look forward to the day that they're out of the picture and it's in the very near future. It's just the final steps to make and we will have it all behind us,” he said.

Burgess said the membership is happy to finally be moving forward.

“It's behind us. We're getting back to focusing on the business that we do,” said Burgess. “Everybody accepts that and is glad to have it behind us, which allows us to focus on our people, our activities and the tasks that we do.”

He said he's glad both West Hants and the WFD agreed to not pursue any other legal action. Both parties are working on mending fences.

“At the end of the day, if nothing else, the whole 10-year period has kind of redefined the whole fire service in Hants County; Hants West overall. It's made things possible that wasn't possible before,” said Burgess.

He said he's hopeful that the WFD and municipality will be able to work well together in the future, and said Windsor is already participating in the county's fire service policy working committee.

Since West Hants forged ahead with creating its own fire service, the Windsor Fire Department has seen a reduction in calls by about 55 per cent.

“We sort of anticipated (that) based on historic numbers,” said Burgess.

The fire chief said he can't speculate on what the future holds in terms of renewing past partnerships with the county but said the firefighters are always willing to answer the call for help.

“We'd do more calls if we had them – that's what they're here for and they want to do – but I think a lot of folks also realized the amount of running that we used to do was very significant,” said Burgess.

“Now that we're removed from it, I think a lot of people recognized that it was a lot. A firefighter would always do more if asked.”

As for the chief, his role has also evolved as they've downsized. For the past year and a half, he's been taking courses in fire inspection and building inspection. He's currently an assistant building inspector with the Town of Windsor and works as a fire inspector alongside Deputy Fire Chief Jamie Juteau.

“During my training period... my deputy chiefs, Jamie Juteau and Ian Duey, both stepped up and covered my time away. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be able to do it,” he said.

Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess' role has evolved over the last year and a half. He's been in training to also serve as a local fire inspector and building inspector.

 

New station?

At the heart of so many rumours over the years was that the fire department required a new station as soon as possible.

Throughout the dispute, the fire chief maintained that a new station wasn't immediately required. It's a stance he hasn't wavered on.

“We were quite clear with that back five or six years ago. Our station is fine. We're doing some renovations to make it a little more firefighter-friendly,” said Burgess.

Now that the entities aren't feuding, and Windsor is freeing up space by selling off two trucks, Burgess said the WFD is able to focus on projects they had put on the backburner, which includes upgrading the showers and washrooms, plus the meeting room and firefighter's lounge area.

“The other aspect is to make it a little more friendly for our firefighters' families – so it's a little more like a firehouse than a fire station,” he said.

Burgess hopes to showcase more of the fire department's rich history in display cases around the station as a way to remind its members of its proud history.

“We want to live our history every day.”

The Windsor Fire Department was founded in 1881. They were instrumental in providing fire service to West Hants for about 60 years, and still respond to mutual aid calls.

 

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