Innisfil and Bradford West Gwillimbury signed a ground-breaking agreement back in May to not only share a chief between the two fire departments, but to also explore the possibility of further consolidation.
The two towns already share an amalgamated police department — South Simcoe Police Service — and have also integrated their drinking water systems, piping water from Innisfil’s water treatment plant to the Fennell Reservoir in Bradford.
Phase 1 of the shared fire services pilot project saw Innisfil Fire Chief Tom Raeburn installed as chief of the Bradford department with a 30-day period to assess the idea.
A proposal to enter a second phase came before Innisfil council this week.
Phase 2 involves hiring a consultant for a feasibility assessment, which will look at long-term financial impacts, as well as analyze resources, capacity, community benefits, and level of service.
The consultant will also explore governance models and the implications for collective agreements and wages. They will also reach out to neighbouring municipalities and the County of Simcoe to see if they are interested in participating in the review of shared services.
The cost of the assessment study is estimated at $125,000 and would be split evenly between Innisfil and Bradford.
A consultant has not been selected, but Raeburn said they will “definitely” want someone with a background in fire services.
Coun. Donna Orsatti asked if the consultant would review Innisfil Fire’s efficiency and staffing levels.
“That would be the intent,” Raeburn said of looking for efficiencies and how things could be improved.
The assessment will look at a range of options, from status quo to full consolidation, Raeburn said.
Both Bradford and Innisfil have composite services, employing both full-time firefighters and volunteers. The two towns share a border and already provide mutual aid when responding to fire calls. But in other ways, the two departments are quite different.
Innisfil, which bills itself as a “community of communities,” has five fire stations.
Bradford, with its population concentrated in an urban area, has a single fire station. Although, residential growth in Bond Head has increased pressure for a second station.
The biggest challenges for a merger have been identified as the alignment of existing collective agreements, wages and the new governance model.
Innisfil council unanimously approved the recommendation to move to Phase 2 of the shared fire services agreement.
The proposal will come to Bradford council on Oct. 6.