The Highlands East fire committee is trying to reset in the wake of outrage from Highland Grove residents over a perceived threat to the community fire hall.

A new terms of reference for the committee was unanimously approved by council April 9, laying out the mandate for the rest of the municipal term. The vote followed a contingent of more than 20 Highland Grove residents attending the fire committee meeting April 8.

Committee chair and Coun. Cam McKenzie said the committee needed to restart after its first meeting March 11.
A 2010 report was presented at that meeting which recommended the municipality close fire halls including in Highland Grove, which concerned residents and firefighters.

“We kind of started on the wrong track,” McKenzie said. “Because of the public interest, the best way was to level the playing field and let everyone know that there are rules.”

The April 8 meeting consisted of McKenzie reading out the procedural bylaw, employee code of conduct and discussing committee member remuneration. McKenzie also noted council would consider terms of reference for the committee the next day, and the committee had nothing it could answer to until then.

McKenzie made it clear municipal rules require audience members not address the committee and people looking to speak with the committee would have to make a delegation request.

“Those meetings can’t turn into question and answer,” McKenzie said.

Highland Grove residents in attendance expressed frustration.

“I have never felt like such an unwanted outsider as I did tonight,” Cheryl Ellis said. “It saddened me that so many people came out for answers and were greeted with rules and regulations about not speaking out.”

“I really, really understand the frustration of the people,” McKenzie said. “But let’s get it back on track and following the rules.”

Committee to review service delivery

Under its terms of reference, the fire committee is to provide council with a service delivery review. The review is to include a minimum of three options, including one to maintain the status quo. It is also to include details on calls made at all fire halls in the last three years, costs for all options and impacts to fire coverage.

“It’s going to be a fairly big undertaking,” McKenzie said. “Our fire budget is fairly significant. Fire equipment is extremely expensive.”

McKenzie said it will take some time before the review is completed. He also said it would take the 2010 report into consideration.

He added he could not say whether it is expected the other options might fall in line with the report’s conclusions.

“I wouldn’t want to say that wouldn’t be an option. The other is moving equipment around,” McKenzie said.

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