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Pugwash chief vents at 10 per cent cut fire department budgets

The chief of the Pugwash Fire Department is venting about a 10 per cent to the operating budgets of the Municipality of Cumberland’s 16 rural fire departments and another $50,000 cut to the general fire service equipment budget. Google Streetview
The chief of the Pugwash Fire Department is venting about a 10 per cent to the operating budgets of the Municipality of Cumberland’s 16 rural fire departments and another $50,000 cut to the general fire service equipment budget. Google Streetview - Contributed

Yarrow said county should’ve looked elsewhere for cost reductions

PUGWASH, N.S. —

Firefighters with one Cumberland County fire department are not happy with the county’s decision to cut operating budgets by 10 per cent, while also slashing $50,000 from the general fire service equipment budget for all 16 departments in the municipality.

“I believe there are other places the cuts should have been,” Pugwash fire chief Andy Yarrow told the Amherst News. “Losing 10 per cent from our operating budget is going to make it more difficult for us. The fire service is taking a direct hit so council could balance its budget.”

Yarrow said it costs approximately $35,000 annually to operate his department that looks after the village and surrounding areas. The municipality looks after costs such as insurance, the fire department buildings and major maintenance issues, but it’s the department’s responsibility to cover the cost of training and other activities.

Instead of cutting 10 per cent from each of the rural fire departments, Yarrow suggested taking that money and adding it to the cut the equipment budget for this year.

“The operating budget is very important to us,” he said. “We’re just going to have to cut back on the day to day stuff we buy. For example, if someone wants to go the Home Hardware to buy something to make our life easier we’re just going to have to say no.”

Yarrow said in 2005-06 the county decided to take an active interest in its fire departments and hired a fire service co-ordinator. The municipality, he said, also agreed to fund all fire trucks, building and hydrants.

While the thought was departments would no longer have to fundraise to pay the bills, Yarrow said they never stopped fundraising and some departments are working harder than ever to raise more money than before.

“The fire service is staffed wholly by volunteers who volunteer a large amount of time training, maintaining equipment, and responding to emergency calls for help from our customers,” Yarrow said. “We should not also have to volunteer more time to go out and fundraise to maintain an essential emergency service.”

He understands the need for council to hold the line on taxes, but Yarrow said he can’t allow the public to think all is well while the fire service struggles to maintain public safety with aging equipment, reduced training and what he says is a lack of regard by elected officials for the challenges the departments face in responding to emergencies.

“The budget is passed so there’s not much we can do about it this year, but it’s important we speak out so members of the public are aware of the situation,” he said. “There are a lot of upset people. This year we have to live with it, but council and staff have to know we’re here and we’re going to keep pushing them and they can’t keep taking from us.”

Yarrow said the issue was raised at a recent chiefs’ meeting and the feeling was mutual among the departments. No one, he said, is in favour of the cuts, but it’s something that would’ve dragged on to the fall.

He said he decided to speak out on behalf of his department.

Yarrow also questioned the cut to fire services when there were “modest increases” in staff and council wages and expenses. He said it’s unfair for the municipal leadership to say all is well when fire safety is being weakened by cuts.

Cumberland County Warden and Pugwash area councilor Allison Gillis said the only fire department complaining about the budget is Pugwash’s. He believes some of the backlash is related to the department’s desire for a new rescue boat.

He said the boat, while not in this year’s budget, will be considered in future years.

The warden also took exception to talk he or any other member of council got a raise in the 2019-20 budget.

“They’re talking about councilors and the warden getting a raise in pay, but the fact is we took a hit in pay,” the warden said. “We didn’t get a raise. With the federal changes on our honorariums, a lot of councils across the province increased their pay to counteract that. We did not do that.

“Sometimes what you read and hear is not exactly what it is.”

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