‘Any community needs to have a strong protective element for industries to feel good about moving in there.’ – new St. Thomas Fire Chief Kevin Welsh


city_scope_logo-cmykThe Oct. 28 media release from the city announcing the hiring of a new fire chief was somewhat short on information.
The one-paragraph devoted to Kevin Welsh reads, “With over 27 years of experience, Chief Welsh currently serves as Chief in the Town of Renfrew after spending many years with Kingston Fire and Rescue.
“He holds a Masters of Public Administration from Queens University and a Bachelor of Arts from Waterloo.”
He assumes his new role on Nov. 15, so what better way to get to know the city’s new fire chief than to call down to Renfrew and find out who Kevin Welsh is.
He’s got a sense of humour as we quickly discovered when he asked about the short turnaround between his last day in Renfrew this coming Friday and on the job in St. Thomas starting Monday, Nov. 15.
“Well you’ve got a weekend in between, so it’s all good.” he pointed out.
You can easily hear the enthusiasm in his voice, noticeable when he explained he was to be in the city last weekend to begin house hunting.

“It’s already started. It’s part of the excitement of a new challenge and a new chapter in our lives.
“It’s the opportunity to learn about a new community and look for a home that we’re going to be able to cherish and live in for many more decades to come.”
He’s familiar with a larger fire department having served as acting platoon chief and captain working with a typical on-duty strength of 32 people covering five stations.
Kevin Welsh city fire chiefWelsh added the city has four other stations worked by volunteer firefighters to cover a total area of about 124 square kilometres of urban and rural settlements.
“It was a great opportunity to understand all the different elements associated with the fire service and that’s part of what I get to offer to St. Thomas.
“I’ve got a little bit more experience here in a small town supervising the 10 members in the town of Renfrew.”
And, with the move to St. Thomas, Welsh noted he will have the opportunity work to with “a good-sized professional department with 50 very dedicated members and the opportunity to be part of a growth situation and the vibrancy that’s coming along with all the ability the city has had so far to regenerate itself.
“It’s just a great opportunity.”
When asked what personal strengths he will be bringing to St. Thomas, Welsh explained, “Part of what I’ve had the chance to do here in Renfrew is be very community-engaged and be an involved individual.
“I had that opportunity in Kingston to understand the concepts of a larger community and a larger service and had the ability to take that in the circumstances here in Renfrew where there is a very close feeling.”
The population of Renfrew is in the 8,000 range and Welsh worked with 10 career firefighters and another seven or eight volunteers.
“My understanding of the delivery of a fire service is a highlight I can offer St. Thomas and being a strong team-builder and working with individuals closely.
“Relationships are obviously very important in every workplace and I think I’ve managed to develop those.”
Welsh’s responsibilities in Renfrew also saw him serve as emergency management coordinator plus sit on the town’s senior management team as the town has no CAO.
St. Thomas had a similar structure before Wendell Graves was appointed CAO.
“I have more than just a departmental approach. I look at the community, the other needs the community has and, of course, the tax dollars.
“You have to have that kind of perspective.
“And create the new energy moving forward for the team to be ready for the growth that is going to come and the expansion we’re going to have within the elements the city can finance effectively.”
As to the vigorous industrial growth of late in St. Thomas, Welsh observed, “Any community needs to have a strong protective element for industries to feel good about moving in there.
“And if we can create that atmosphere and continue to build on it, St. Thomas will see the growth and industry coming back in after the auto sector moved out.”

“As the firefighter family, we never want to forget. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to acknowledge those in our community or outside the community.”

As to Welsh’s experience working with composite fire services – a blend of career and volunteers – he says, “I see the potential for St. Thomas to spread their fingers outward to help our neighbours.
“So, understanding the training each community has and possibly working together on those training exercises to be sure you mesh well when it comes together in the worst moment of somebody’s day where you are there to help them.
“The composite I see going out from the city, not coming into the city.”
Unless there is a need to call on mutual aid agreements in a particular situation, added Welsh.
“You go and do what you need to do and you worry about geography afterward.”

“So, we are looking forward to all the opportunities St. Thomas presents to be engaged and become familiar with the community. It’s about making friends.”

Welsh is not unfamiliar with St. Thomas as he reflected back on the death of Capt. Dennis Redman, killed in the line of duty fighting a fire at 200 Chestnut Street on Jan. 5, 2001.
“My introduction to St. Thomas was to attend that man’s funeral. As the firefighter family, we never want to forget. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to acknowledge those in our community or outside the community.
“They have given that sacrifice to the community and we don’t want to lose that.”
Speaking of community, Kevin and his wife Corinna immersed themselves into day-to-day life in Renfrew, volunteering with several community clubs and organizations while participating in numerous events and activities.
“You can’t separate the position from the person. There are eyes on you but we are the kind of individuals who want to be involved in our community.
“There’s a seniors activity centre here in Renfrew where we go and participate. It’s an amazing opportunity to sit and have lunch with a 100-year-lady and hear about all she has gone through in her life.
“We do fundraisers at the house where we can help organizations. It’s not just get up, go to work and come home deal for either one of us, because that’s not who we are.
“So, we are looking forward to all the opportunities St. Thomas presents to be engaged and become familiar with the community. It’s about making friends.”
He leans on the word opportunity throughout our conversation and it appears we are being presented with a refreshing opportunity with the arrival of Kevin Welsh on Nov. 15.

PLOWING THROUGH ON THE BUS

We went into detail last week on the Railway City Transit status report which was presented to council this past Monday (Nov. 1).
Credit to Coun. Jim Herbert for pointing out the buses run to a fairly tight schedule, so what happens in the winter with icy and snow-covered roads?
“Are all the bus routes plowed?” queried Herbert. “Are they the first to be plowed?”
The response from the city’s director of engineering Justin Lawrence perhaps indicates transit isn’t quite as high a priority as some may expect.
“They are definitely plowed,” advised Lawrence.”But they are plowed based on a class system of roads, though.
“So it goes by the volume and the speed on the road. Typically a bus route is on a big road so, yes, they are some of the first to get done.
“Except when you get out to the perimeter of the city and you’re on smaller streets.”
This is a factor on several of the routes and would greatly impact time-keeping on a snowy morning when additional riders may be relying on the transit service specifically because of the weather.

BUS RIDERS BEFORE AND AFTER

Still with transit, after Monday’s transit review and acceptance by council of the report, faithful reader Isabelle Nethercott forwarded us her thoughts on the report. She contacted all members of council with her observations which are detailed below.

As a daily transit user, I have a keen interest in changes to the system, and the new system has deeply impacted my daily life in a number of ways. I had previously submitted two detailed emails offering criticism and suggestions, which are repeated below this email.
I thought that I was sending them to the proper persons and I was very disappointed that I did not receive so much as a “thanks for the feedback” response from City Hall to either of them.
Because the transit system is so very important to me, I am continuing to offer my insight as an actual user of the system despite the lack of response, and am now including all council members in this email.
I see that the six-month status report is on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting. I have read through it and would like to offer up these comments for your consideration.

1. The report notes that there has been a weekly increase in ridership of 25%. However, the report fails to mention the fact that the availability of the transit service itself was increased by 39.5% (see below). So in effect, there was actually less ridership in relation to the hours of available service. The report has chosen to highlight only the apparent increase in ridership when that is not the whole story.
Furthermore, the report doesn’t indicate when the data was collected with respect to the prior ridership numbers. If it was any time in the year preceding the launch of the new system, then the bulk of that time was affected by Covid-19 when ridership was down anyway.

Previous hours: 7:15-6:45 M-F, 9:15-6:45 Sat – 11.5 hours x 5, 9.5 hours x 1
Total: 67 hours of service (weekly)

New hours: 7:15-9:45 M-F, 9:15-9:45 Sat, 9:15-5:45 Sun – 14.5 hours x 5, 12.5 hours x 1, 8.5 hours x 1
Total: 93.5 hours of service (weekly)
Result: 39.5% increase in hours of service

2. The report makes this semi-coherent point which glosses over reality: “Several riders expressed dissatisfaction with interlining of other 4 routes which results in 1-hour service to the perimeter of the city and makes transferring to a non-Talbot route at times have a wait at the hub.”
The fact is that if you can only catch a bus once an hour in your neighbourhood (which is the case for 4 out of 5 routes now), it is a 1-hour service no matter where in town you are going. Period.

3. There is no explanation why there are 15 on-demand-only stops that are only available after hours and not through the day, nor any indication that this will change. This results in absolutely no daytime service in a few key spots, including the entire stretch of Wellington Street from Stanley all the way to Fourth, where the Commercial Express route used to run.

4. The recommended improvements are all good although they do not address some other issues with the new system. One specific stop, in particular, is not mentioned – the infamous “Swiss Chalet” stop. Obviously it’s not possible to stop there and then get into the left turning lane to get to the next stop which happens to be the transfer point for all the buses. Yet this stop is noted on FOUR routes as they head to the transfer point. It is unbelievable that no one questioned the placement of this stop. Some drivers refuse to stop a safe distance ahead of this stop to let people out because that is not an official stop (and that is understandable, as those are the rules). Yet they cannot stop at the official stop either, as it is unsafe. Apparently, the RCT has been aware of the issue at this stop for months, yet nothing has been done. If nothing else, it should have been covered up so no unsuspecting riders stand there waiting while the bus goes by them. A safe temporary stop could have been implemented a short distance away until an official decision to move the stop was made (which decision does not seem to have been made even now). Why is this stop not mentioned in the report?

To update on that last point, Justin Lawrence indicated Monday the stop will be moved further west on Talbot to allow for crossing over to the left-turn lane.
As always, it is valuable input from Isabelle who relies on transit daily and who better to comment on the status and reliability of the transit system than a dedicated – and very patient – user.
By the way, her insight passed on to members of council did not appear to be acknowledged at Monday’s meeting.

Related posts:

Proof of vaccination mandate for St. Thomas municipal employees to debut Nov. 2

‘A good public transit system is essential to a healthy community’ – a frustrated St. Thomas passenger

COVID VACCINATION VACUUM

City council unanimously endorsed the proof of vaccination policy for municipal employees at Monday’s meeting and it is now in effect.
During the discussion, Coun. Steve Peters asked the same question we raised last week in this corner.
Why are unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals who will need to undergo regular testing being reimbursed the cost of the rapid testing until December 31?
The cost is approximately $40 per rapid test and the weekly cost is estimated to be $1,500 – $2,500.
The response from Sandra Schulz, Director of Human Resources was less than a satisfactory explanation.
“I am concerned that we, as a municipality, are assuming the cost of testing for those who choose not to (get vaccinated or have not done so at this time) for as long as we are,” said Peters.

“After January 1st, if somebody remains unvaccinated, they would be responsible for their own costs.”

Schulz responded, “We are really looking at the program as being an education and information program to staff.
“So it virtually takes about five weeks for an employee to get their first dose, their second dose and then 14 days to become fully vaccinated.
“After January 1st, if somebody remains unvaccinated, they would be responsible for their own costs.”
Does that even remotely touch on what Coun. Peters asked?
If these individuals have put off getting vaccinated all this time, what is the incentive to do so now?
Better yet, what are the repercussions if they don’t?
Well according to the policy, they may be subject to progressive disciplinary action, up to and including termination, and/or leave without pay not exceeding 60 calendar days, at which time an employee’s status will be reviewed.
Taking us into March of next year when, as Premier Doug Ford has suggested, the pandemic will no longer be a threat to the general public.

Related post:

Proof of vaccination mandate for St. Thomas municipal employees to debut Nov. 2

ONE TO WATCH

The Thames Valley District School Board has paused the School Resource Officer (SR0) program in all schools while it engages “in community dialogue and problem-solving around issues that have been raised . . .”
It’s a touchy issue with members of the St. Thomas Police Service who took great pride in the program as did the officers dedicated to serving as SROs.
They have since been reassigned while the program is paused.
Of note, the TVDSB has given no indication as to how long this pause will last.
St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge issued the following statement with regard to the SRO program.
“As education, community and policing leaders, we need evidence-based research that not only evaluates SRO programming but one that also takes into account the experience of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) students.
“In order to move forward, we need to develop a truly transparent relationship that builds confidence in the program and certainly in all students.
“The St. Thomas Police Service (STPS) applauds this recent decision by our partners at the Thames Valley District School Board. I am pleased that the SRO program is only being paused at this time.

Deputy-Chief-Roskamp-2018-

Deputy Chief Marc Roskamp

“We are very proud of our local school programs, the terrific work STPS officers have been doing in St. Thomas schools for decades and the positive relationships which have been developed, but even in that pride, I do recognize there is clearly a need for change.
“We are definitely open to listening and learning, with a goal of bridging any gaps in our relationship with St. Thomas youth.”
No one is more involved with the SRO program than STPS Deputy Chief Marc Roskamp and we had a lengthy conversation with him this week on the program, the SRO officers, the value of the program and the future.
We’ll take a deep dive into that conversation with Marc Roskamp next week in this corner.
It will be a valuable read.

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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One thought on “‘Any community needs to have a strong protective element for industries to feel good about moving in there.’ – new St. Thomas Fire Chief Kevin Welsh

  1. In response to your segment about the transit review: While I will say that I think it is appalling that multiple emails to City Hall Customer Service and to various elected officials still have not elicited even so much as a “thanks for the feedback” response, there were references in the council meeting to some of the issues which I had raised in my emails. Councillors Kohler, Clarke and Peters mentioned correspondence which all council members had received from a citizen, and Councillor Clarke in particular asked Mr. Lawrence directly about it. Mr. Lawrence was only able to recall two things from the many points which I had raised in three separate emails to him, and in particular his acknowledgement that the 1 hour service takes “slightly longer for some riders” has stuck with me (and not in a good way).

    Both Mr. Lawrence and Mayor Preston mentioned that there was a “tradeoff” made to increase some things and gain benefit that way. Mayor Preston stated that some routes had to go to an hour in order to be able to supply any service at all on Sunday. I note that the projected ridership on Sundays is 2500/year, or about 48 rides per week. That seems like a pretty small return when compared to the reduction of 4 out of 5 routes to hourly service. Wouldn’t that amount of ridership be able to be serviced by “on demand”, rather than running all the routes all day? Of course, the evening service is also a part of the “tradeoff” and I do acknowledge that is a definite improvement.

    Mayor Preston has asked that riders continue to provide feedback, and I would ask that all citizens do so, not just riders. As I understand it, the transit system is subsidized by the City, which means that tax dollars support it whether you use it or not. So it would be in everyone’s best interests to have a robust system that is well-used, to increase fare revenue and reduce the amount of subsidization required. Mayor Preston mentioned that there is a “reporting place” for transit only, but I cannot seem to locate it. Perhaps a link could be added directly to that reporting place right on the Transit System page at the City Hall website, so that people can easily find it and make their voices heard.

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