Mayor says council wants to fix fire service inequities

Photo by Jake Boudrot -- A fire in a wood chip silo at the Port Hawkesbury Paper mill in Point Tupper on June 20, 2019 did not affect production at the region’s largest employer.

PORT HAWKESBURY: The mayor says a delay to leave the Mutual Aid Agreement will provide an opportunity to give volunteer firefighters and town officials time to work on an alternate plan.

Following the town’s regular council meeting on October 6, Brenda Chisholm-Beaton advised the delay gives them time to consider other options.

“Is there an opportunity to mend the Mutual Aid Agreement to remove the inequities that exist?” Chisholm-Beaton asked. “Will there be an opportunity to create separate MOUs with some of our surrounding fire departments?”

The Strait Area Mutual Aid Agreement allows firefighters in both Richmond County and Port Hawkesbury to respond to emergency calls within the other municipality.

Officials in the town had been providing fire protection services for the nearby Richmond County community of Point Tupper – which is largely industrial – through the Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire department in Port Hawkesbury is only two kilometers from Point Tupper, whereas the Louisdale Volunteer Fire Department is 27-kilometers away.

Councillors in Richmond County rejected a $75,000 contract proposal for 2020-21 from their Port Hawkesbury counterparts in June; the previous agreement expired in July, and they asked members of the Louisdale department to resume responsibility for Point Tupper.

Officials with the Town of Port Hawkesbury reduced the amount of the proposal to $50,000 – the same cost at the 2019-20 contract – in a second offer in July, however in August, municipal councillors again voted to reject it.

Members of the Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department gave notice to leave the Mutual Aid Agreement on September 25, something they later voted to extend until December 25.

Chisholm-Beaton said there aren’t details on what any potential opportunity may look like, but town officials are working alongside fire department members to resolve the situation, and advised she hasn’t ruled out coming to an agreement with their counterparts in Richmond County.

“I hope in the future that we are able to find that common ground so that we can have a system in place for fire services.” Chisholm-Beaton indicated both sides might be willing to come back to the negotiation table after municipal elections on October 17.