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Richmond Hill seeks consolidation of local fire services

Reg. Coun. Perrelli's motion came days after Aurora mayor put forward a notice of motion to look at consolidation possibilities
Jan. 30, 2020
Sheila Wang

The idea of merging fire services at the regional level, which has floated around for years, has recently gained fresh momentum.

Richmond Hill council passed a resolution on Jan. 22 to request that York Region consolidate all eight fire services into one fire department.

The proposal, moved by Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli, came days after Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas put forward a notice of motion to look at the possibility of consolidating fire services at the regional level at the Jan. 16 regional committee meeting.

Perrelli’s motion was one step beyond what Mrakas intended to put forward, as the Aurora mayor said he would request a staff report to examine opportunities for possible merging in the future.

“It is time that we take actions to make it happen,” said Greg Beros, who seconded the motion. “If York Regional Police makes sense, if York Region EMS makes sense, it’d only make sense if the region had a York Region fire service.”

A consolidated fire service could help plan and deliver “effective and efficient service,” Perrelli’s motion reads, adding York Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson supports the regional consolidation of fire services.

The idea won the support of a majority of council, while Ward 2 Councillor Tom Muench cast the lone dissenting vote.

“If it’s not good for three [municipalities], what makes you think it’s good for all?” Muench asked, citing a 2016 study which looked at the possibility of merging Richmond Hill’s fire services with Central York Fire, which serves Aurora and Newmarket.

Staff recommended “not to pursue” the consolidation based on the results of the study, which found the limited benefits of consolidation did “not outweigh the anticipated costs” at that time.

A few councillors told Muench the study didn’t apply to Perrelli’s motion, which proposes consolidating all eight fire services at the regional level.
Ward 4 Councillor David West, who supports the idea of regional consolidation, said potential costs and benefits need to be looked at as the motion moves forward at the regional level.

Perrelli’s motion also states the consolidation may result in administrative efficiencies on nonsuppression fire activities, such as training and vehicle maintenance.

Mrakas shared a similar view.

He noted, at the regional meeting, the efficiencies and enhanced service achieved since the merging of Aurora and Newmarket's fire departments into the Central York Service back in 2002.

Richmond Hill's fire department received 5,774 calls in 2018, an 11 per cent increase from 2016, the 2018 annual report says.

The city's firefighters only responded to 61 per cent of the incidents within four minutes, while the National Fire Protection Association standard states the first truck should arrive at the scene to 90 per cent of incidents within four minutes, according to the report.

Richmond Hill and Aurora are not the only municipalities that have moved in favour of consolidating fire services.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor and Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt have chatted about Whitchurch-Stouffville joining Central York for months, reported.

A formal proposal to examine the idea is expected to go to Whitchurch-Stouffville in the spring.