Fire halls and arenas remain hot topics as July 12 decision day approaches
KAWARTHA LAKES - Kawartha Lakes Fire Chief Mark Pankhurst says the Coboconk fire halls condition isnt all that bad. Ward 6 Councillor Doug Elmslie says it should be blown up.
And, Mayor Andy Letham says council should have all the information in front of us before any arenas are closed or two multi-million dollar twin pad facilities are built.
Arena and fire station closures are two of the most hot-button topics to come out of the Core Service Review so far and they came before council for discussion on Tuesday (June 28).
READ MORE: Recommended closures of Kawartha Lakes arenas, service centres available online in Core Service Review reports
On the heels of a public meeting held Monday that was devoted solely to public comment on both topics and the Core Service Review itself, councillors had a chance to speak up before final decisions are made on July 12.
Staff have recommended that council support the closure of six single pad arenas by 2026 - (Manvers, Emily-Omemee, Ops, Little Britain, Oakwood, and Woodville). The plan is to replace them with two new twin pad facilities; one in the southwest and one in the southeast (at an estimated cost of $25 million each.)
READ MORE: Councillor warns those affected by arena closures will expect a commitment on something better
The Fire Station Location Study, completed last fall recommended the consolidation of the Baddow fire station with the Fenelon Falls and Coboconk stations; and the merging of Oakwood and Little Britain fire halls with the idea of building a new station further south.
Baddows closure is planned for October.
READ MORE: Baddow-area cottagers say they will consider legal action if fire station closes this fall
After a community backlash, council ordered a Peer Review of the Study, and heard the presentation on Tuesday.
Emergency Management amp; Traiacute;ning lnc. was hired in May, and provided with all of the prescribed background information and files associated with the Citys Fire Station Location Study for review. Additionally, all public correspondence and City reports respecting the Citys review of Fire Stations was provided to the consultant, the report states.
The consultant met and corresponded with the CAO throughout the peer review process, and interviewed the Citys Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chiefs and Paramedic Service Deputy Chief, the report continues. The Fire Chief was also requested to tour the consultant to various stations at the outset of the project. The peer review concludes that the Citys Fire Station Location Study and staffs station consolidation recommendations approved by council were logical, supportable, meet NFPA standards and applied a sound approach to station location planning.
Residents of Oakwood and particularly the Baddow area say otherwise.
Paul Leslie, one of the consultants who did the peer review faced questions from many councillors on Tuesday. He explained the station location Study is complex and was viewed through a professional lens using factors the public may not consider.
Its more than just having your firefighters down the street, he said.
Baddow residents have battled the City since the recommendation was first proposed, and they maintain the original location Study was filled with errors and omissions.
When the peer review report was released last week, they alleged the concerns and information they provided to the mayor, CAO and council were ignored.
Mr. Leslie assured council that was not the case; that all of the concerns were reviewed, but ultimately did not change the findings as they were addressed in the location Study. Many of the concerns were not supported by the data in the Study, he noted.
The peer review found the Study to be logical and had been done correctly, he said.
But his response to many councillors questions was that the reviews scope did not include a review of the issues councillors were asking about.
Mr. Leslie said the company was contracted to review the study, not redo it.
It wasnt our mandate to start over.
Ward 3 Coun. Gord Miller, who came under heavy fire from his constituents over the Baddow hall, asked if anything had popped out to the consultants. The answer was no; the consultants looked at the size of the City but they focused on the scope of the original Study as council had directed.
Coun. Miller asked if the changes would put people at risk, but, Mr. Leslie said the City is not at an undue risk. The level is well within the standards (of fire safety), he said, and the consolidation of the stations does not have a negative effect on public safety.
The review report states, Recruiting and maintaining a team of volunteer firefighters to adequately staff a fire station is a very diacute;fficult task for many municipalities in Ontario. lt should be remembered that not all volunteer firefighters are available at all times to respond to emergencies. Therefore, it is normally required that the miniacute;mum number of firefighters at a station be 15 to respond to any probable emergency.
Fire Protection Survey Services requires 15 fiacute;refighters at a station to be considered having minimum fire protection.
That caused concern for many residents and councillors, as there are several City fire halls which do not have that many firefighters.
Mr. Leslie clarified it, saying what is important for tanker shuttle certification is not the number of firefighters in a station but the proximity to water in case of fire.
Mr. Leslie said the review looked at where the stations are but didnt pay attention to ward boundaries, only the overall geography, which he noted is a huge area and no easy task to determine where fire halls should be.
He noted the consultants reviewed the data from the original Study and didnt just OK it.
The consolidation of Baddow with Coboconk will result in better coverage and makes better use of resources, he said.
Mr. Leslie explained the response time for firefighters is only one small component of public safety; working smoke alarms and knowledge of fire prevention are also factors.
Other factors also affect response time; ie assembly time (the time it takes for personnel to get their gear). He said fulltime firefighter assembly time is about 90 secs and volunteer firefighters about four minutes. He noted the proper location of fire stations (especially in a large area) is a complex issue.
Ward 7 Coun. Junkin asked if the allegations of errors and omissions in the initial Study were reviewed and was told they were. Ward 8 Coun. John Pollard asked if the consultants explored other options for the location of a new station in the Little Britain area, but was told it makes sense to move it further south.
Ward 5 Coun. Steve Strangway asked several questions about the effectiveness of fire service (if Baddow closes) and did not appear to be reassured.
Ward 15 Coun. Mary Ann Martin noted the consultants didnt do their own study; just reviewed the existing one, and a lot of concerns havent been addressed.
Ward 14 Coun. Gerard Jilesen challenged Mr. Leslies comments that ideally, there should be 15 to 20 firefighters first on scene at a fire; that a truck with just six is not enough.
Coun. Jilesen, himself a 38-year veteran firefighter, said six firefighters and 3,000 gallons of water can do a lot of damage at a fire while waiting for backup response. (Three fire stations are automatically sent to any structure fire.)
He told Mr. Leslie that he did not agree with the consultants comments.
Coun. Elmslie thanked Mr. Leslie for his work but said we havent uncovered all the rocks.
When the peer review was ordered, he suggested to the CAO that it would be beneficial to speak with station coordinators and that did not occur.
Mr. Leslie said the coordinators were not consulted. The consultants were satisfied with the information in front of us and had no reason to talk to personnel as they were part of the initial Study.
Mayor Letham said credit should be given to staff who brought forward the original Study. Coun. Miller said the big question is are we doing the right thing and the professional opinion, Mr. Leslie responded, is yes.
Ward 9 Coun. Isaac Breadner slipped in a question of the City would spend about $10,000 for a peer review when the cost to operate Baddow hall is about $8,000 per year, but the mayor disallowed that, saying it was not the point of the discusion.
Coun. Elmslie moved the Baddow hall remain open until a decision or action is taken on the Coboconk station, noting it was logical.
Something has to be done about Coboconk hall so hold off on Baddow closure, especially given how residents feel, he said. Its not about seeing the Core Service Review fail, but respecting 400-500 people who are really worried about this.
Coun. Strangway seconded the motion, saying he wants information on the Coboconk hall before Baddow is closed. But, the Mayor said the station isnt moving further away so I dont get the rationale.
Chief Pankhurst said when the location Study was done, Coboconk wasnt even on the radar. Little Britain/Oakwood halls were the first priority.
He added it doesnt make good business sense to delay Baddow closure.
(The 2010-2017 Fire Master Plan recommended the Coboconk station should be the first on the list for action, as its condition is so poor.)
Coun. Miller asked if people are at risk if they are waiting for a new hall to replace Coboconk/Baddow. Mr. Leslie declined to get into a political debate.
You have good advice in front of you, why not take it? he asked.
Coun. Elmslies motion failed in a 10-7 vote, with councillors Strangway, Emmet Yeo, Gord James, Heather Stauble, Gerard Jilesen, Kathleen-Seymour-Fagan supporting him. He later told This Week he should have added a specific timeline to the motion, which may have gained more support. I should have moved a decision on Coboconk be made by the end of the year, and keep Baddow open until then, which is only a couple of months (from Baddows proposed October closure).
Mayor Letham said he would not support the motion as he wants to move forward but added, the fire service will be held responsible for public safety.
Regarding arenas, Ward 16 Coun. Heather Stauble said it was the most sensitive issue from the Core Service Review, and the mayor said he wants to see more options before arenas are closed and council looks at building twin pad facilities. Residents were clear at Mondays meeting - forget building new arenas; invest in refurbishing what communities already have.
All of the reports are available on the citys website at city.kawarthalakes.on.ca.