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LETTERS: Readers react to Culic column on redundant fire chiefs

Four more letters in response to this week's Hot Take

PelhamToday received the following four letters in response to James Culic's column this week arguing that there are literally too many chiefs in Niagara's fire services:

Remarks a ‘grotesque insult’

As a seasoned veteran of municipal firefighting for over three decades, I find myself compelled to address the woefully misguided and utterly contemptible remarks James Culic recently made in his column. His audacious statement that "firefighting is not a dangerous job" is nothing short of a grotesque insult to the courageous men and women who tirelessly respond to emergencies throughout our region, whether they serve full-time or as volunteers.

The physical and mental rigors endured by all first responders have reached staggering levels, exacerbated by the escalating frequency of calls and ever-mounting hazards. His flippant dismissal of our duties as mere "surround and drown" protocol exposes his profound ignorance regarding the complexities and challenges inherent to emergency scenes. Such callous disregard for the realities of our profession is as ignorant as it is insulting.

While it may be true that we do not face mortal peril every single day, the cumulative toll of the harrowing sights, sounds, smells, and stresses we confront is nothing short of overwhelming. Perhaps, Mr. Culic, before you so callously declare our profession devoid of danger, you should have had the decency to consult with the widows and families of the brave firefighters with whom I have had the honor of serving. Their firsthand experiences would undoubtedly shatter your delusions of safety.

And your contemptuous reference to “those guys” who collect your trash only serves to underscore your disdain for honest, hardworking individuals who perform essential manual labor. Such elitist disdain is as repugnant as it is revealing of your true character.

Perhaps, in your next endeavor, instead of casting aspersions upon professions you clearly do not understand, you might consider producing a "cheesy TV show" wherein a reporter bothers to conduct thorough research before spewing forth such flagrant ignorance. It would certainly be a refreshing change from your current brand of journalistic writing. Yours disdainfully.

Bob Oleksiw
A Disgusted Firefighter


Sharing fire chiefs didn't work before; updated data shows more fatalities

First off, let me start by questioning the validity of Mr. Culic's article and ask what happened to the art of writing a column that contains truth, facts and investigative reporting, as opposed to a defamatory, misguided and uneducated written piece?

Mr. Culic laid claim that two Niagara municipalities are doing the right thing by sharing a fire chief and that Port Colborne's current fire chief is leaving rather suddenly and therefore not giving the City of Port Colborne enough time to hire a new chief before the current chief’s departure. However, what Mr. Culic fails to report is the fact that Wainfleet and Port Colborne have already conducted this dance in the past, albeit in reverse order, but at the time, then Port Colborne fire chief Tom Cartwright was tasked with overseeing the Wainfleet Fire Department. This venture proved not to work and both municipalities went back to having their own fire chiefs for each.

The City of Port Colborne is not doing this as a cost saving venture, they have to have a fire chief appointed to oversee their municipality by law under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act; "1997, c. 4, s. 5 (4). 6 (1) If a fire department is established for the whole or a part of a municipality or for more than one municipality, the council of the municipality or the councils of the municipalities, as the case may be, shall appoint a fire chief for the fire department."

The fact that Mr. Culic claims Port Colborne's current chief is leaving suddenly and the City has no time to hire a replacement before the departure is very misleading. Had the City of Port Colborne actually replaced the deputy fire chief that had already left and not allowed the position to sit vacant, then that deputy would become the acting fire chief until city council could approve a new fire chief and this current situation could have been avoided.

A question I wonder if Mr. Culic has considered is, should a serious emergency incident arise in both municipalities at the same time, where would the priorities of the fire chief splitting his time between these two municipalities lay, especially given the City of Port Colborne does not even have a deputy fire chief to fall back on as mentioned in Mr. Culic's column.

The so called "never-ending game of musical chairs" by upper levels of fire departments in Niagara as stated is again a fact that could clearly be investigated and found to not be just a Niagara issue or a fire department problem, it happens everywhere and in some cases people even call it career advancement. A chief leaves a smaller department to lead a larger department, leaves a part time (volunteer) department to oversee a full time department, accepts an advancement from deputy chief to chief. This is no different than chief administrative officers in municipal or regional sectors, no different than other employees moving from city to city, town to town. Heck even reporters and columnists occupy a musical chairs at different media outlets. If Mr. Culic thinks a single fire department would end the so called "nauseam", clearly he needs to take a closer look at all emergency services provincially to see what kind of advancement or lateral moves actually takes place in single tier and multiple jurisdiction municipalities and regions.

I appreciate the admission by Mr. Culic not knowing "Heck about any of this" because that gives extreme insight to his utter ignorance in claiming that standard firefighter protocol is “surround and drown” meaning stay outside the building where it’s safe and spray water in through the windows. Directly implying that firefighters rarely conduct interior firefighting operations. Clearly what Mr. Culic failed to properly investigate like most good reporters would do, is to educate himself on firefighting tactics based on the fire load upon arrival, time weighted averages on new construction homes impinged by fire, departmental operational guidelines or standard operating procedures, the general health and safety for all personnel on scene, and the list goes on. What Mr. Culic reported as his own false fact, is very much the opposite of the reality when firefighters respond to various structure fires. These brave men and women, career or part time (volunteer), operate in a calculated manner based on the emergency incident before them and the scene size up conducted, and more times than not, it has them entering the structure and not a "surround and drown."

Mr. Culic likes to downplay the inherent dangers of firefighting by singling out one report, but with a quick Google search, even those of us that are not so called columnists can find that in addition to his mentioned University of Fraser Valley Study, a new analysis conducted by Surrey Fire Services in British Columbia compared the Fraser data with updated data. A glaring change that was observed was a 21 percent increase in on duty firefighter fatalities and a 3 percent increase in cancer deaths, (please see links below for other statistics). When you compare that to the other professions he listed, a decent columnist actually looking for facts would compare the health and safety changes, reporting and personal protective equipment improvements, to mention a few and understand that these needed industry changes came from the investigations into firefighter fatalities. Have the other professions Mr. Culic listed been as proactive in making their work sites and equipment safer as the fire industry has attempted and therefore truly comparing apples to apples?

There are many firefighter memorials held by various departments throughout the year in Niagara, not to mention provincial and national memorials held respectively in Toronto and Ottawa each year, possibly Mr. Culic could consider attending one or more of these and educating himself on the actual dangers of firefighting or sharing his belief with a grieving family of how much more dangerous he thinks his job is as a columnist according to his article.

There are many municipalities throughout the Niagara Region in search of firefighters, both on a volunteer basis or career, so if Mr. Culic would like to step out from behind his keyboard and serve his community in a more meaningful way than putting down the men and women that protect he and his family, I am sure he will gain a new appreciation of a long standing dangerous but rewarding profession, that his community would in turn appreciate his commitment in doing so. Respectfully submitted.

Todd Brunning


Why as a Region are we not looking at regionalizing fire services?

Marvin Ryder was the transition head for the City of Hamilton merger. In a St. Catharines Standard interview, he claimed a victory over the elimination of many inefficiencies as a result of the amalgamation. In the interview, he identified fire services as an area where many efficiencies can be found.

In 2020, Niagara spent $1.5 million dollars on fire chiefs whereas the City of Hamilton spent $196,000.

One only has to look at the amalgamation of the Lincoln and Grimsby pilot project to provide shared fire protection to see the benefits of amalgamation. The pilot was been deemed a success and has received recognition for the amalgamation.

The issue in Niagara is most local politicians do not have the willingness or capacity for change even if it is demonstrated the change will result in significant savings for taxpayers. Significant governance reform is needed in order to reduce the duplication of service and the costs of the duplication to the taxpayer.

Clearly the only way this will happen is with provincial intervention. #timeforchange

Allen McKay
St. Catharines


‘Pay is absurd considering the lack of risk’

Kudos for having the testicular fortitude to pen the article regarding the absurdity of the merry-go-round of fire department management.

When I show people the Sunshine List for St. Catharines and educate them of how many fire captains we have making around $140,000 per year, and all the regular firefighters make north of a $100 grand, they are generally gobsmacked. The pay is absurd considering the lack of risk (as Culic pointed out to his pending detriment).

Considering the fact that the supply of hopeful applicants for each opening (usually hundreds if not well over a thousand per job opening), I am certain the salary could be cut by at least 25 percent and there would still be far more applicants than jobs. And considering that in St. Catharines (and many other municipalities) firefighters only work seven days a month for their six figure salary, I'm sure filling the job openings wouldn't be an issue.

Keep up the good work.

Peter Janowski
St. Catharines