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Orillia firefighters speaking out over frequent station closures

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The union representing Orillia firefighters is speaking out against a policy it says could put safety at risk.

For more than 10 days this summer, the City has decided to close Fire Station 2 due to staffing shortages. The union says this can lead to delays in fire crews getting to emergency situations quickly.

"This means that response times will be delayed to the north end of the city and West Ridge," said Brett Eeles, the president of the Orillia Professional Firefighters Association Local 1100. "This is dangerous in a person's greatest moment of need when every second counts. It also diminishes our ability to respond to simultaneous emergencies when station 1 is already out on a call."

The staffing shortages that have led to the station temporarily closing include sickness and long-term disability-related issues, including PTSD.

The union would like to see the City instead revert to paying overtime rates and hire temporary employees to address the shortages. While volunteer firefighters are available, they are often unprepared to deploy to emergencies as quickly as their professional counterparts.

Eeles says the union has been attempting meaningful consultation with the mayor and councillors but that those conversations have not been fruitful.

"I believe the citizens of Orillia have a right to know what's going on with their vital emergency services and what will happen or not when they call 911," he said.

The mayor released a statement to CTV News saying that he will be calling for a comprehensive review of the fire service, arguing that a mandated 24-hour shift implemented through arbitration in 2018 has contributed to staffing challenges.

"I want to reassure members of our community that our fire administration team and dedicated team of professional Fire Fighters have operational plans in place to provide services when reduced staffing levels occur," Mayor Don McIsaac said in a statement. "The City's fire service is further augmented by a complement of 20 dedicated volunteers and through the municipal aid agreements we have with our neighbours. Our community is well protected."

The contract for the association is set to expire at the end of this year.

With files from CTV's Molly Frommer. 

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