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Coming to Halifax council: Fire services, flood mitigation and funding requests

The clock tower of Halifax City Hall is pictured on Oct. 3, 2018. Alexander Quon/Global News

The year is almost over, and Halifax Regional Council has left some of its most important topics until its last meeting of 2018.

When council meets on Tuesday, they’ll close out the year talking about improving safety at the Beaver Bank Connector, a decision on funding for the Hospice Society of Greater Halifax, flood mitigation as part of the Cogswell redevelopment and drastic changes to Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Services.

Council will not be meeting in council chambers this week, as they have temporarily relocated to the Harbourfront Marriott in downtown Halifax.

The temporary move was slated to last until the Dec. 4 council meeting but will continue on Tuesday to allow for the installation of new and updated technology in the Halifax council chamber and the municipality’s broadcast centre.

Here is what’s coming to Halifax council.

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Fire services

Council is set to consider a dramatic reshaping of the municipality’s fire services — including a possible shift in staffing at one fire station and a reduction in response times throughout the municipality.

The details are contained within a staff report heading to council on Tuesday.

The report is based around a report by Pomax Consulting, which was awarded a tender in 2017 to evaluate Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency’s (HRFE) service levels and performance.

Since 2006, Halifax firefighters in urban areas have been expected to respond to structural fires within seven minutes 90 per cent of the time. For rural firefighters, the target has been 12 minutes, while volunteers in rural areas are expected to arrive in 17 minutes.

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Response times in seconds for urban areas for Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.
Response times in seconds for urban areas for Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency. Pomax Consulting

According to the report by Pomax, which analyzed data from 2016 and 2017, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency missed the targets on almost every dispatch, turnout and travel time set by the municipality.

As a result, municipal staff are proposing giving an extra 30 seconds for dispatch times — the amount of time from the receipt of the alarm to the notification of firefighters — and an extra 30 seconds for both urban and rural firefighters for turnout, or the amount of time it takes for the firefighters to get on the road.

Response times in seconds for urban areas for Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.
Response times in seconds for urban areas for Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency. Pomax Consulting

The current dispatch standard is 60 seconds, a period that Pomax found was being consistently missed as a result of the municipality’s dispatchers having a role in responding to police, fire and 911 calls.

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“No matter how conscientious call takers and dispatchers are, it is very difficult to change roles on the fly between being a 911 call taker, fire call taker and police call taker, plus remember to capture all the time markers,” the report from Pomax reads.

The report concludes that the fire service is “unable to achieve an effective firefighting force.”

“We anticipate the only way to achieve the 2006 standards for multiple unit response is via new stations and new staff for those stations in order to reduce travel time,” Pomax writes.

“Adding stations may cause excessive response area overlap with existing stations, meaning that some existing stations may have to be relocated because of redundancy.”

There is one exception contained in the report, which recommends an increase in staffing at Station 45 in Fall River to 24 hours per day.

Staff say the station’s proximity to Halifax Stanfield International Airport puts the location at high risk for fire because of the number of commercial buildings in the area.

By adding four career firefighters to the station 24 hours a day, the report says response times to the airport and surrounding area would be greatly improved.

READ MORE: Halifax council takes ‘leap of faith,’ approves $250K grant for first hospice in Halifax

Staff recommend denying $500K funding request for Halifax hospice society

Halifax’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee is recommending that the council deny a $500,000 funding request and not authorize the municipality’s chief administrative officer to enter into a contribution agreement with the Hospice Society of Greater Halifax, according to a report headed to council on Tuesday.

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The recommendation is a repudiation of a “leap of faith” that council took on Oct. 2, when they approved a $250,000 grant for the hospice with the possibility of contributing an additional $250,000 during the next fiscal year.

The grants were subject to the approval of a supplementary staff report, which was voted down by the municipality’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee on Oct. 9 and Dec. 3.

The $500,0000 was only a portion of the original $1-million request for the project submitted by the society, which is constructing a building at 618 Francklyn St. in Halifax that will house accommodations for the terminally ill.

The 10-bed facility is estimated to cost approximately $6 million, and updated estimates suggest that there’s been $3.4 million spent on construction so far.

The building is scheduled to be completed by March 2019.

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Improving pedestrian safety at the Beaver Bank Connector

The recent death of a 60-year-old man at the Beaver Bank Connector near the off-ramp for Exit 2 of Highway 101 has renewed calls for changes to the intersection.

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Steve Craig, councillor for Lower Sackville, is set to request that municipal staff work with Nova Scotia’s Department of Transportation to “discuss and outline” infrastructure requirements necessary to improve pedestrian safety, with a report on the topic making its way before regional council.

“Currently, there is no infrastructure or safe mode of transportation for pedestrians that use this access,” Craig writes in his request.

He says he’s hoping to provide clarity of the respective jurisdiction of the Halifax Regional Municipality and the province when it comes to infrastructure that involves the connection of provincial highways and municipal roads as well as to outline the options the municipality has and how much it might cost to implement those options.

A fatal crash between a dump truck and a car along the same stretch of road earlier this year left one dead and another severely injured.

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Flood mitigation in the Cogswell district

A staff report headed to council recommends the municipality budget $600,000 for flood mitigation efforts near the Karlson’s Wharf and Casino Nova Scotia sites as part of the Cogswell district redevelopment.

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The issue was previously identified in a May 2 report on the completion of 60 per cent of the design of the Cogswell district redevelopment.

According to the report, a section of Upper Water Street near the Halifax Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Department of National Defence’s wharf is often flooded during rainfall and “coastal flooding events.”

The area was designated as one of the top 10 risk areas for flood mitigation action due to “Upper Water Street’s status as an entrance to downtown Halifax and as an emergency evacuation route,” the report reads.

The solution is to raise “the elevation of Barrington Street” by a metre to prevent future flooding while also modifying the elevation of the road in the area near the casino.

If approved, the modifications would be carried out during the Cogswell redevelopment project, likely during the fiscal 2020-2021 year.

Halifax Regional Council is set to meet Dec. 11 at 10 a.m.

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