An attempt by a northern Ontario municipality to increase its roster of fire truck drivers is hampered by a backlog of road tests, and officials are calling on the province to increase capacity in the north.
The volunteer-run fire department in Central Manitoulin Township is made up of 38 people, 12 of whom are licensed to drive the truck.
They’re passing that number for now, but they really need more available drivers, said Phil Gosse, fire chief for the Central Manitoulin Volunteer Fire Department.
“The response time remains the same, that has not hurt, it is just that we are a large municipality,” he said. “People don’t always work in the area, so it’s tight.”
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Six more firefighters from the fire department are trying to get a class D license with a Z air brake backing so they can operate a fire truck, including Gosse. But, as it stands, he said there are months behind to book a test.
“We can’t do a test drive until the end of April (2022), and now they say May and June, so that’s too much,” he said, noting that the delay of months means firefighters who have received training. Trucking courses don’t have the training so fresh on their minds.
“In a perfect world, everyone would be licensed, but again, you know, we are a volunteer fire department.”
Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens said the municipality hopes to get additional training facilities or additional road test times so that more members of the fire team can obtain their licenses.
Gosse said his fire department does not want “special treatment,” but because it offers an essential service, the department would like to complete road tests “in a timely manner.”
Michael Mantha, a member of the Algoma-Manitoulin provincial parliament, raised the issue of ongoing delays in the legislature this week. Waiting five to six months to get additional volunteer firefighter certification to drive a fire truck “is just not acceptable,” he said.
“Now, they have people at the moment, the service is in place, however, we are dealing with a volunteer fire department, and not all instances or not all people are always available and that creates a challenge. It also raises security concerns, ”he said in an interview.
Mantha said he has also heard from other voters who are struggling to get proof for G2 and G licenses in a timely manner amid the pandemic, but stressed that “it is not a new problem.”
“In Northern Ontario, this problem has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. However, it is a problem that has been present for a long time throughout Northern Ontario in a variety of communities, ”he added.
It is especially urgent as many people in the north of the province depend on vehicles to get around, Mantha said, as many communities do not have transit systems or the availability of a taxi or any other means of transportation.
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“If they can’t access their vehicle, go to work, go to the sand, go to a doctor’s appointment, go shopping, go to a doctor’s appointment, we all suffer,” he said.
“Our economy suffers or services suffer and individual households suffer.”
A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney blamed the former Liberal government for the lack of capacity to conduct road tests in the north.
Jordanna Colwill said the province is investing more than $ 16 million to increase road test capacity at all DriveTest centers in the province and hire an additional 251 driving examiners.
By late fall, he said 19 of those examiners will be dispatched to centers located in northern Ontario, which is expected to increase testing capacity in the region by about 150 percent.
Mantha noted that new centers have been set up in southern Ontario, but the north is only getting new examiners, which he said won’t even make a dent.
The ministry has been working closely with local fire departments to ensure they have access to tests as soon as possible, Colwill said.
“We know there is still a lot of work to do,” Colwill said in a statement.
“More citations will be loaded into the system, but resolving this long-standing issue will take time and we appreciate the public’s patience.”
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