Woodstock councillors voted Thursday night to reduce the city’s complement of firefighters from 48 to 44.

“It’s not something that came easy. We’ve agonized over this,” Coun. Bill Bes, who introduced the motion to eliminate the positions, tells CTV News.

The cuts won’t take effect immediately, but will be made through attrition – something the Woodstock Professional Firefighters Association says could take until 2020 to be fully realized.

Association president Chuck Newton says the cuts will mean one fewer firefighter on each shift, which could impact response times.

“One man per shift makes a big difference to our service and the tasks we can perform,” he says.

The cuts stemmed from a desire to see the fire department affected by city budget cuts the same way most city departments are – and with nearly 85 per cent of the department’s budget taken up by salaries and benefits, few other options.

Additional changes to fire service approved by Woodstock councillors include considering a new fire inspector position, potentially moving one fire hall and making adjustments to the tiered response agreement regarding which medical calls firefighters respond to.

Coun. Ron Fraser was in favour of all the recommendations except the one to eliminate firefighter positions.

“I don’t believe that this is the proper time to reduce the number of firefighters in the service,” he says.

Fraser says he expects new residential and industrial growth could mean the city will be looking to add more firefighters around the time the attrition cuts are finalized.

Bes agrees, but says if that comes to pass, he’d like the city to look at a “composite” fire department – one staffed by a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters.