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New fire chief Doug Trussler takes the reins

Will be paid $175,000 annually.

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Incoming Fire Chief Doug Trussler is following suit with mayor’s proclamation of an Era of Openess, saying the key to working through the department’s challenges is in good communication.

The keen and cheery 55-year-old has served as a firefighter for 26 years, starting out in Toronto in 1985.

Trussler retired as North Vancouver’s fire chief after he was selected from a list of both internal and external candidates to replace former chief Bill Mosher.

Mosher promptly left the gig earlier this year shortly after a poll found wide discontent with the men at the top---97 percent of workers surveyed indicated strong disapproval of the management team.

In 2009, several black firefighters filed a human rights complaint, alleging racial discrimination, such as pay decreases for employees who had taken part in a special recruitment program for black firefighters---while white firefighters received a pay increase---repeated use of racial slurs among personnel and training where black firefighters were subjected to racism and humiliation.

“We obviously want to start working on a fire service that better represents our community, so I’ve been tasked to look at our recruitment process,” says Trussler.

“We want to get our message out to all the different communities and break down some stereotypes that you have to be a white male and you have to be 5’10 and 175 pounds to do the job---that’s not true.”

While the department is waiting on the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s decision, there’s no official comment on specific changes. In the meantime, with a few grievances remaining, Trussler plans to meet with the union president and representatives from the black firefighters to chat.

“I think everyone just wants to move forward, we don’t want to dwell on the past, we want to move forward,” he says.

“A lot of it goes back to the style, you’re going to find a management team here that is more inclusive and more participative,” he explains; “sometimes a lot of issues are because people don’t feel they’ve been listened to, that their issues haven’t been resolved---there’s no communication, no follow-up---that’s all going to change.”

In 2009, there were 20 black firefighters among the fire department's career force of nearly 500. Today there are 19 people who identify as a visible minority.

However, Trussler says any hiring won’t begin for another three years or so---when the department is in a position to spend again. This year’s fire budget is $55.55 million; city hall expects a $1.8 million cut for next year. Trussler says he’ll meet that target through reorganization and efficiencies that may come in the form of attrition, but not through job losses.

Trussler is also setting his sights on attracting, retaining and training volunteer firefighters, a force of over 700 that the department heavily relies upon; a system unlike Toronto’s or Vancouver’s all-paid workers.

“The honest truth is, we can’t operate without them. To staff those stations with career firefighters is cost-prohibitive” he says, ballparking that figure around $55 million---more than their existing budget.

Trussler’s HRM salary is a plum $175,000. A small step up from his Vancouver North earnings, and quite a piece more than the mayor’s $138,000-per.

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