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N.S. fire chief feels ‘betrayed’ after decision to close rural volunteer department

The chief of the Greenwich Fire Department says he feels 'betrayed' by a decision to close it down and transfer services to Wolfville.
The chief of the Greenwich Fire Department says he feels 'betrayed' by a decision to close it down and transfer services to Wolfville. Greenwich Fire Department

The chief of a rural Kings County, N.S., fire department says he was blindsided by a decision to close it down and transfer the fire district to another department.

Jason Ripley, chief of the Greenwich Volunteer Fire Department, says he found out Tuesday night that on April 1, the Wolfville and Greenwich fire districts will be combined into one district, which will be served by the Wolfville Volunteer Fire Department.

Ripley said there was “no guarantee that our membership would even be able to join the Wolfville fire department.”

“The fire department wasn’t even allowed to speak to this before it went before council,” he said, adding that he had to inform the department’s 39 volunteers over email Tuesday night so they didn’t have to find out through the media the next day.

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The councils for the Municipality of the County of Kings and the Town of Wolfville jointly formalized an agreement with the Greenwich Fire Commission — which is separate from the department — to merge the two districts following a study of fire services in the region that looked at potential overlaps and room for improvements.

The review, conducted by consulting firm Emergency Management and Training Inc., recommended that the two districts combine “to address service duplications relating to overlaps in coverage.”

The Greenwich Fire Department participated in the study, said Ripley, adding that the department didn’t know of the study’s findings until after it quietly went to council Tuesday night, where it was not on the agenda.

“I really feel betrayed about the process, how it’s all played out,” he said.

“All along, we were willing to consider amalgamation, but of course, an amalgamation is a partnership with two entities, not one being closed and the other taking over.”

The Greenwich Fire Department has been in service since the 1930s. Greenwich Fire Department/Facebook

According to Ripley, he had been trying to get a copy of the study for “three or four months,” but was continuously told that it wasn’t ready.

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The Greenwich Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1933 and is entirely volunteer-run. The department’s fire district is about 88 square kilometres, with about 2,000 residents, Ripley said. It responds to approximately 100 calls per year.

The study, which was completed in January, noted that a number of other fire departments in the area are close to Greenwich.

The Wolfville and Greenwich stations are located less than five kilometres apart along Highway 1. As well, the Greenwich department is within 3.2 kilometres of stations in Port Williams and New Minas.

“For a rural community served by volunteer firefighters, our team has never seen this density of firefighting capability,” the review from Emergency Management and Training said.

However, Ripley argues that every moment counts when it comes to responding to an emergency.

“When someone’s trapped in a home — with newer building construction homes, they’re burning faster and hotter — there’s definitely potential of a loss of life,” he said.

Service ‘won’t be diminished’

Peter Muttart, the mayor of the Municipality of the County of Kings, told Global News there were opportunities for consultation during the review of the fire departments.

“That process took seven months, and during those seven months consultation happened with all of those parties: the Wolfville department, the Greenwich department, the town and the municipality,” he said.

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Muttart said the final decision was made behind closed doors because the municipality “had to make a determination” on whether it should enter new contracts with the fire service and how costs would be shared with municipal units.

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Nova Scotia fire marshal continues investigation into house fire that killed woman, 3 children – Feb 21, 2022

He said there will not be an impact on fire service, nor will the change cause an increase in insurance rates for homeowners in the area, as was claimed in a release from the fire department.

“The service, as far as the public is concerned, certainly won’t be diminished,” he said. “In fact, it’ll probably have as good or better service in terms of response times than they had previously, and in terms of the equipment.”

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He said there will be consultation between all parties to see that there’s “proper recompense” for the assets of the Greenwich Fire Department, which belong to the commission, though they were partially paid for by the fundraising efforts of the department.

The municipality will engage a “transition coordinator” to work with the firefighters looking to volunteer with other departments.

“We hope that each of the firefighters will find a new home within either the Wolfville department, which will be taking the fire district under its wing, or within other departments that some of them live much closer to,” Muttart said.

“All we’re talking about is, essentially, a building. The service will be maintained through the transition process, which will take some time.”

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Muttart said eventually a new fire department will be built to serve the communities of Wolfville and Greenwich.

Yet to Ripley, the Greenwich department is more than just a building: it acts as a community meeting space and comfort centre during emergencies.

He also said the firefighters are “very engaged with the community,” holding a smoke detector drive each fall and putting on an annual Santa Claus parade, among other things.

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Ripley said he is frustrated with the lack of communication between when the review was completed and when the final decision about the Greenwich Fire Department was made.

“We feel like we engaged in a process through this study in good faith, believing the word of municipal staff and council that we would be consulted and engaged along the way. And that appears, at this point, to be a lie,” he said.

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