Fire Hall Renovations to Accommodate Female Firefighter

As Cobourg resident Ken Strauss pointed out in his critical “Letter to the Editor”, at the Committee of the Whole Council COW) Meeting on November 16, Fire Chief Mike Vilneff asked for budget pre-approval of $240K for renovations to Cobourg’s Firehall.  He said that this was required because these renovations were needed to accommodate a female firefighter who had been hired earlier in the year. Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin said that early approval was not needed since regular budget sessions were imminent. When asked, the chief was not able to provide a detailed breakdown as to what exactly was needed to accommodate the female firefighter versus other included items. So after considerable discussion, the original motion to approve the full amount was passed with Suzanne and Mayor Henderson voting against. They agreed with the requirement but wanted it considered at budget deliberations.

Mike Vilneff
Mike Vilneff

But, this was a COW motion so, as required, it came up for final approval at the regular meeting on November 23 – and was the subject of further considerable discussion.

Councillor Emily Chorley once again asked for a breakdown of the project.  And this time Chief Vilneff was ready.  He divided the project into 6 parts and agreed that “altering the workshop” could wait. Mike asked a contractor to provide realistic quotes for the other 5 sub-projects. Of these, 2 could be decided at the 2021 capital budget deliberations leaving 3 sub-projects that Mike really wanted to start as soon as possible and therefore needed immediate approval. Further, the contractor’s prices were about half the estimates provided by the architect. Note that some of the reduction was because the original estimate included premium costs of material since it was at the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. So in response to a request he received after the previous meeting (he didn’t say who from) Mike reduced his request for pre-approval from $240K to $35K.

In the end, Council pre-approved $40,000 (including $5,000 contingency) instead of $240,000. This was to be spent on:

  • New Sleep Quarters Construction $15,000
  • New Altered Office Construction $5,000
  • Gross Decontamination Showers $15,000

The remaining projects of the PPE Construction Room and Washroom/Locker Room will now be considered in the 2021 Capital Budget Deliberations.

We have to thank Suzanne Séguin, Emily Chorley and Chief Vilneff for this sensible result. There was no mention of Ken Strauss’s letter but maybe that had some effect.


Budget Process turned upside down – Letter to the Editor – 17 November 2020 – re budget pre-approval for Fire-Hall renovations

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29 November 2020 6:40 pm

There are so many misinformed people out there
they are Emergency workers , they get called out for car accidents, heart attacks, etc
Cobourg is getting to be a very mean town,
it appears there are just a bunch scrooges in this town
$35,000 you have a hard time renovate your kitchen for that price

Reply to  Mark
29 November 2020 7:44 pm

You may be right Mark but the Fire Chief didnt seem to put any work into this to deserve any more than he got. If he isnt willing to put a decent proposal together its apparent. Taxpayers want to know what they are getting for their money.You cant ask for 240 k and just hold your hand out for it.

Reply to  Mark
29 November 2020 7:56 pm

It’s not the $35K that is the problem.
$35K is just “phase 1”. There is another $100K if the rest of the project is approved. One of the problems is that the original ask was $240K.
In addition, pre-budget approval was requested.

There was (is) a management failure on several levels. The person was hired without first ensuring that proper facilities were in place so that she could work safely and productively. Both the fire service management and HR failed in this regard.
Further, Council was “jambed” by the request, on short notice, to approve the project and provide pre-budget funding from a grant which was not the fire services’ to claim.
As more details emerged, it became clear that the $240K project cost was overstated (by about $100K) and involved more than what was required to meet the new-hire’s needs.

Council’s job (as mandated by the Municipal Act), is to provide oversight and they fulfilled their duty in a responsible manner. There is nothing “mean” about their action. They acted appropriately for a “board of directors” of a $55M corporation.

Reply to  Mark
29 November 2020 7:56 pm

As does the police department and paramedics, but they aren’t supplied sleeping quarters.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Mark
29 November 2020 8:42 pm

Mark, you are ignoring that $20,000 of the $35,000 goes to renovate offices to allow hiring more firepersons and to add a new gross decontamination shower for everyone to use. The Chief put another one over on the patsy taxpayers; the new hire still won’t have a female (or gender neutral) washroom which was the justification for the original request!

28 November 2020 12:40 pm

I know that Ken S doesn’t need it but well done to you sir. More importantly well done to Counselors Emily, Suzanne and Mayor John for not going along with this charade proposed by the Fire Chief. I’m glad the Chief woke up (perhaps a Counselor-voice whispered in his ear) and got quotes from local contractors but to even have presented (and its timing), as he did, the 240K as a credible $ value is as Bryan puts it is ‘management failure’. There is no doubt Covid for all organizations (public, private, not-for profit) has cast an ugly cost line to their balance sheet. However, the piling on of prospective expenses, no matter how tenuous, is not an appropriate response at this time either. Funders of this extravagance, i.e. tax payers, are also strapped for disposable income.

27 November 2020 10:03 am

After reading all the comments here, and for the last 3 months driving by the Fire Station on Elgin at various times of the day and sometimes seeing 0 cars in the parking lot…other times 2 cars and perhaps 3, we now really have the equivalent of a volunteer fire department in Cobourg??? If the firefighters are at home or out somewhere waiting for the call, by the time they get to the station etc. the problem (fire) could be out of control. Another big question to ask yourself…is your homeowners house insurance policy cost “less” per $1,000 evaluation versus Port Hope’s cost…They have a volunteer fire department which cost a whole bunch less to run. Perhaps one of our local insurance brokers could answer this question. Are we paying top $ for a Fire Dept. but not getting a better deal on insurance rates?

27 November 2020 8:45 am

All quite interesting. Yes, the local firemen do 24 hrs continuous shifts, it’s a great deal, for them! Where else can you find a career where one could actually sleep on duty, run a side business, like carpet laying, etc. on all that “time off”, since you get 3 days of accredited work time in one 24 hr. shift?
As for accommodations for a female officer, provide an appropriate washroom and a bunk! The rest is just management trying to improve offices.

Reply to  Malcolm
27 November 2020 9:51 am

Is hard to take your comments seriously when they are not factual. The shifts they work are listed in their contract which is online. Nights are 14 hour shifts and days are 10 hour shifts.

Reply to  Informed
27 November 2020 10:17 am

So why are firefighters allowed to sleep on the job and it be encouraged for them to do so by supplying sleeping quarters?
This is ridiculous, I can’t understand how the fire department gets away with what it does

Reply to  Leweez
27 November 2020 10:25 am

I dont know. I guess you assume they dont get any calls?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Informed
27 November 2020 4:12 pm

I see the old collective agreement that expired in 2016. Could you please provide a link to the current agreement?

27 November 2020 8:12 am

OK so congrats to the female being hired. Great news but… why so many changes at outrageous cost to have her ? I’m a female but to have those accommodations just for her is not cosher. Maybe a shower install but the rest ? No I’m not in agreement with all this. And most employees rarely sleep at the house and I correct? I would think that this money could go to better ideas no ? Again I’m glad for her but to rearrange the hall just for her is unnecessary

Ken Strauss
26 November 2020 10:16 pm

Why are we spending to alter an office (justified by the Chief as being required to accommodate more firepersons) and adding a “gross decontamination shower” which is an entirely new facility? How do these changes satisfy the requirement for facilities for females as outlined in the Chief’s initial request? The pre-approved spending is not creating a female washroom!

Reply to  Ken Strauss
27 November 2020 8:52 am

May be we can use these beds as part of the Homeless shelter program there is a lot more land there and get them out of the Police department . May be the extra employee female or not and
expense is in anticipation/ preparation for the additional first response calls to the new Drug Rehab on Division st

Reply to  Sandpiper
27 November 2020 10:22 am

There are days when I don’t know if you are being serious or sarcastic.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
27 November 2020 3:26 pm

The big question is this.. Would you like to be a firefighter?

Liz Taylor
26 November 2020 8:45 pm

Must be some kind of firefighter. The tests must have shown her the very best candidate in which case all the more power to her. I recall a man who applied and applied and applied to another fire service. Finally on the verge of giving up he was selected among the candidates. A very competitive field to try and enter. I had recently heard grumbling from a senior member of the fire department with regard to poor decisions made within the service although didn’t say what. I know we can no longer unload our groceries or pick up seniors on an icy day from the back of the building as it is a fire route. Should one take their groceries upstairs or go up to get a senior family member you are in danger of a member of the fire service lurking down the street and pouncing leaving one with a $50. ticket.

Reply to  Liz Taylor
28 November 2020 9:40 am

Never park in a fire route. No excuses.

Last edited 1 year ago by JimT
Liz Taylor
Reply to  JimT
28 November 2020 1:06 pm

Parking No – but the front to enter the front one is a very lengthy access. You are welcome to come her in the winter with all your groceries and lug them through the parking lot, up the ramp and along the path. Elderly people live here Jim. Tenants stop for just enough time at the back, immediate access to unload and bring them up and elderly tenants on icy days get picked up at the back. Now a fire person parks down the street and like a vulture swoops with his $50 tickets as soon as they see a car If someone should park there and stay for lengthy times Jim I certainly agree they should not park there. But stop for 5 minutes??? considering the front access? No differential is made.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  JimT
3 December 2020 1:27 pm

Jim – one person parks there – he parks there anywhere from 20 minutes to half a day – funny they have never got a ticket. People stopping for exactly 5 minutes have been tagged the $50 fine. May you have a 20 lb. box of cat litter to carry on your walk from the bus stop to your home – probably the same length to the front entrance and you said you needed UBER!

Reply to  Liz Taylor
28 November 2020 10:25 am

Take it up with the superintendent
Fire routes are in place to stop people from using them for the purpose you think is more important…groceries.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Informed
28 November 2020 1:09 pm

Hardy, har, har Informed. You know not what you speak of.

SW Buyer
Reply to  Liz Taylor
28 November 2020 2:51 pm

With few fires to fight, the Chief has put his minions to work enforcing fire routes. At $50 per ticket, it will take quite a few to fund the firehall renovations. Everyone, be careful where you park.

Reply to  SW Buyer
28 November 2020 5:50 pm

You dont have to agree with the much of what is said but calling people minions for doing their job to enforce fire route bylaws is just disrespectful.

Reply to  Informed
28 November 2020 6:17 pm

The online definition of minion: “a subordinate or petty official
SW Buyer’s usage seems pretty accurate.

26 November 2020 6:16 pm

The Fire Department is just using the same logic–and expense– that the school boards used to add/renovate their local properties to accomodate the Transgender and Gender Diverse that might enter their premises. Unlike this case, where the public spoke(thanks Mr Strauss)–hundreds of thousands was spent…….(hopefully, on local contractors)….As I write this I am sure new plans for better, safer places are being planned for those self-chosen groups to have both at home and while they serve us; sparing no expense…..while so many go homeless and affordable housing has long become beyond most working people’s reach.

26 November 2020 4:42 pm

“Sleeping quarters”? I thought this was when there were actual fire fighter volunteers and they would donate their time. Getting paid to sleep? I thought this only happened in the House of Commons.

Reply to  Kyle
26 November 2020 8:32 pm

Exactly, maybe we should build sleeping quarters for the Public Works employees, you know, for when it isn’t snowing?

Reply to  Leweez
26 November 2020 10:37 pm

Staff are working from home so no need to sleep at the office.

Reply to  Leweez
27 November 2020 2:36 pm

Careful, don’t give council any more silly ideas.

26 November 2020 3:07 pm

Nice to see Cobourg FD hiring female firefighters – I’m a little surprised it took this long.

Reply to  Rob
26 November 2020 4:23 pm

Totally agree. Long overdue.
This incident brings to light a management failure. Why did the Town hire someone without first having the needed appropriate facilities in place first?
Further, why does the Town not have adequate (any) reserves to fund repairs and renovations to the firehall? There are reserves for repairs/renovations to the police station and Victoria Hall.
Why is the Town so lacking in basic asset management? Any Condo in town has better asset management systems than Cobourg, a $55 million dollar corporation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bryan
26 November 2020 2:51 pm

Im not sure if this is good news or not? Its likely going to be needed and cost more in the long run.I talked to a fireman in Durham i know and said this type of work should have been done years ago or at least planned when it would have been cheaper. How can any head of a department ask for a large sum of money and not be prepared to back it up? Was this asked for before and removed in the buget process over the years?

Reply to  Informed
26 November 2020 4:30 pm

Good questions!
The answer is, in two words: management failure.
A new hire should never be brought on board without first having the facilities and equipment they need in place so that they can work safely and productively.

Reply to  Bryan
26 November 2020 4:40 pm

Why do firefighters in Cobourg need sleeping quarters?
I do not believe they work 24 hour shifts?

Reply to  Bryan
27 November 2020 12:52 pm

I could not agree more! Isn’t it time these management people start thinking ahead. That’s what they supposedly get paid for.