City audit reveals inadequate business practices in fire and emergency services

An internal audit revealed high staff turnover has resulted in unchecked inventory, maintenance expenses and work hours

NEWS May 16, 2017 by Rachael Williams Mississauga News

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Fire and emergency services

Metroland file photo

Staff turnover and inefficient record keeping in the city’s fire and emergency services division has raised alarm bells at city hall.

An internal audit detailing concerns over the division’s building and fleet maintenance was presented to the city’s audit committee on Monday. Inefficient inventory tracking, cash handling and failure to properly document maintenance expenses were just a few issues identified in the audit.

“We need to recognize the business processes are really outdated,” said Al Steinbach, the city’s director of internal audit.

Steinbach identified Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services (MFES) as a high-risk area, and attributed the problems to staff turnover, which has left employees unaware of their roles and responsibilities.

Over the past two years, four staffers in management/supervisory roles have retired, including the assistant chief, capital assets, the building maintenance co-ordinator and the head mechanic.

“We do have a shift in culture in the fire service,” said Fire Chief Tim Beckett. He added the department has focused primarily on fire suppression and hasn’t put as much focus on the day-to-day operating procedures.

The fleet and facility maintenance department has an operating budget of $3.7 million. The operating budget for Fire and Emergency Services is the city’s third largest expense, at $105 million. Steinbach said without proper procedures in place, the city is missing out on opportunities to save money.

MFES operates 20 fire stations across the city, running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Four of these fire stations are shared with Region of Peel Paramedic Services. As a result, some of the operating and maintenance costs can be recovered at the region, but MFES staff failed to submit chargebacks.

The audit also found there was no tracking of materials used for fleet and facility maintenance and work hours were not properly logged. Concerns surrounding insurance requirements, scrap metal revenues and unchecked third party invoices were also found to be inadequate.

Beckett said MFES is implementing a 16-page action plan to address the audit’s findings.

Coun. Ron Starr asked if further cost savings could be found by merging the city’s transportation and works department fleet maintenance with the MFES fleet.

But city manager Janice Baker replied that collective bargaining agreements stand in the way, as the two departments operate as separate businesses, each with their own union.

“That’s a historic challenge that we have,” she said.

Staff have recommended a followup audit before the year’s end.

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