Mapleton set to join expanded fire service management agreement

Minto, Wellington North already sharing management team

MAPLETON – Council here has agreed to a ground-breaking partnership to share a fire services management team with two other north Wellington municipalities.

Under the agreement, Wellington North, Minto and Mapleton would share a six-person fire services management team consisting of a fire services director (fire chief), two deputy chiefs, a fire prevention officer, training officer and administrative assistant.

Mapleton council, on Feb. 27, authorized participation in the shared fire service agreement, similar to one already in place between Minto and Wellington North.

Wellington North council approved the expanded agreement at its Feb. 26 meeting and Minto council is expected to consider a bylaw to finalize the agreement on March 5.

A report to Mapleton council states the shared management team “should be able to maintain the identity of each individual fire department while ensuring that resources and capabilities are optimized across the three municipalities.”

The report notes each of the seven fire stations in the three municipalities (Clifford, Harriston, Palmerston, Arthur, Mount Forest, Drayton and Moorefield) will have a district chief to run day-to-day operations.

Under the agreement, all six members of the management team will be Town of Minto employees, with Minto contracting out services to the other two municipalities.

District fire chiefs and volunteer staff in Wellington North and Mapleton would remain employees of their respective municipalities.

A joint oversight committee will be made up of the CAOs and three council representatives from each municipality.

The committee will be responsible for reviewing the budget and work plans of the fire service management team and assist in setting direction.

The management team will still be responsible for reporting to all three councils on a regular basis, as well as preparing a budget for each council to consider.

The cost sharing structure would see Minto pick up 40 per cent of management team costs, with Wellington North and Mapleton each contributing 30%.

Minto and Wellington North have been operating under a shared management agreement since May of 2020, with Minto Fire Chief Chris Harrow acting as director of fire services for both municipalities.

Mapleton Fire Rescue has been without a permanent fire chief since former chief Rick Richardson retired in July of 2023.

Puslinch deputy fire chief Brad Bigrigg was appointed interim chief of the Mapleton department in August.

Mapleton councillor Martin Tamlyn asked if any concerns were raised when the proposal was presented to local firefighters.

Mapleton CAO Manny Baron told council that, in addition to the anticipated start date of the agreement (April 1), questions were raised about the cost to the municipality.

“We’re looking at about 125% of what a budgeted chief would be. So, just to simplify, about $150,000 is what it would cost Mapleton to get access to a management team of six,” Baron explained.

“It’s a great investment. Because we are a volunteer fire department, we’re not over-staffed by any means. So there are certain things that maybe have been … delayed due to that reason.

“So, inspections, public education, and those things were also mentioned in our fire master plan … with that investment into the fire management partnership, all those things will be brought back up to par and back on schedule as they’re meant to be. So it’s actually a good news story all around.”

Baron stressed the delays have been “no fault of anybody’s. It’s just not enough staff.”

“It is a good news story,” agreed Mapleton Mayor Gregg Davidson.

“We’re going to be paying a little bit more for, not just a fire chief, but as Mr. Baron pointed out, an entire team to help do all the work that needs to get done.”

Davidson said he believes the proposed arrangement is unique in Ontario.

“Having a team like this, a joint fire team in the north of Wellington County, this is something that’s going to be looked upon across the entire province,” he said.

“Because this is the first time, I believe, that three communities in the province are coming together and making one fire team for the three different fire services.”

The fire services report points out fire departments across Canada are facing numerous challenges, including:

  • a declining supply of firefighters;
  • high demand for services;
  • increasing risks, mitigation requirements and regulations; and
  • resource challenges that include aging equipment and unprecedented replacement values.

Benefits of the shared leadership agreement highlighted in the report include access to:

  • dedicated equipment management;
  • a dedicated training officer and increased training resources;
  • a dedicated fire prevention officer; and
  • support in the areas of public education, information technology, emergency management and human resources.

Other advantages listed include increased response capabilities and “stronger cross-departmental working relationships.”

The report states the Mapleton fire department operations will remain status quo for the first few months to give the management team time to become familiar with local operations.

Afterward, incremental changes will be implemented to align standard operating guidelines and policies.