December 11, 2018 3:11 pm
Updated: December 11, 2018 6:25 pm

Halifax firefighters get longer response times, study expanding service in Fall River

WATCH: Halifax firefighting is set to undergo a dramatic shift after council voted 17 to 0 in favour of adopting a slate of new standards and changes to Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more.

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Halifax firefighting is set to undergo a dramatic shift after council voted 17 to 0 in favour of adopting a slate of new standards and changes to Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.

The unanimous support comes as Richard Zurawski, councillor for Clayton Park, says firefighters “are right up there with police services as something you can’t do without.”

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The debate was centred on a report presented to council by Ken Stuebing, fire chief with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.

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.

READ MORE: Fire services, flood mitigation and funding requests at Halifax Regional Council

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.

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 recommended 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.

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.

WATCH: Halifax Fire crews still responding to false fire alarms despite increase in fines last year

Sam Austin, councillor for Downtown Dartmouth, said that the decision “isn’t a reduction” but rather “putting forward what has actually been the case all along and then looking for ways to improve.”

Stuebing asked that council give them time to phase in and meet their response time targets.

“This is going to be an evolution, the start of a journey,” he said, adding that they plan to provide annual updates to council on emergency response times.

Stuebing stressed to council that the challenges facing Halifax fire are unique.

“It is very rare for a department to provide service to the demographics and the geographical challenges that we have,” he said during the presentation, adding that they are one force covering an area the size of P.E.I.

Steubing said quite a few of the stations in the municipality are outdated and were not designed in such a way to allow firefighters to get to the truck as quickly as possible.

READ MORE: Volunteer firefighters ‘critically’ needed in rural HRM areas, department says

Rather, Pomax told them to focus on improving their “effective firefighting force” or the time it takes for eight firefighters to get to a fire.

“I want us to recognize how important it is what we all heard,” said Steve Streatch, councillor for Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley.

“This is the first day of the rest of the lives for our fire service.”

Streatch said that council needs to make sure they make changes for the right reasons, before adding that he endorses the changes recommended in the report.

Council also accepted the recommendation to conduct a business case about boosting staffing at Station 45 in Fall River from five full-time staff to 20 full-time staff to provide coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Stuebing pegged the cost of the move to be $1.6 million, although it will be part of the Halifax Fire budget presented to the council next year.

The move, if eventually adopted, would greatly improve response times to the Halifax Stanfield International Airport and the surrounding areas.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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