HALIFAX – Off-duty firefighters packed into city hall on Monday to hear a controversial report being presented to councillors.
Fire Chief Doug Trussler and Chief Administrative Officer Richard Butts submitted the review, which aims to update the fire service and look for efficiencies.
One recommendation is to close three core stations on Lady Hammond Road, Patton Road and King Street. Staff would be transferred to other stations or reassigned to crew currently-unstaffed aerial apparatus.
Two stations in Bedford and Sackville would be relocated to more optimal locations to eliminate coverage gaps.
“I actually think the service is going to be improved, especially in the peninsula on the Dartmouth side of the harbour,” said Trussler.
“We have a clear overlap in service. We are going to transfer those firefighters in aerials [that are] needed in their areas, so it’s going to increase the levels of service [residents] receive right now.”
Trussler said data and analysis shows the changes won’t affect response time.
“We will meet the service delivery targets that were set out by council in 2006. We will have a truck on scene within 5 minutes travel time,” he said.
However, the union representing the firefighters is not happy with the proposed changes, saying they could endanger the safety of residents.
Jim Gates, president of the Halifax Professional Fire Fighters Association, argues that data would only work in a “perfect world” scenario where every firefighter is physically in the station
“What this map [in the presentation] doesn’t take into account…is crews could be on different calls, they could be backing up other stations they could be training, they could be out of service due to mechanical difficulties,” he said.
“We’re not willing to sacrifice the service that we give to residents that we already protect by moving the crews to protect a different area. What has to happen — and it’s very clear as far as the union is concerned — is to keep these fire stations open.”
Dartmouth councillor Gloria McCluskey said she agrees with the union. The King Street fire station that is recommended for closure is in her district.
“There are four large senior residences right in that area and these are the most vulnerable in our society,” she said. “A lot of them don’t have mobility and it’s very important that fire trucks are able to get there in a hurry.”
The idea of closing that particular station has prompted the Downtown Dartmouth Business Association to start a petition, which they are encouraging local businesses sign.
“We’re experiencing a bit of residential growth with new buildings being built,” said executive director Tim RIssesco. “We also have concern for some of the heritage properties in downtown Dartmouth and a lot of the commercial buildings are timber frame wood frame buildings.”
The report on Monday was presented without debate. The matter has been referred to Committee of the Whole in the new year, when all councillors will be able to discuss the issue.