Challenges ahead for draft fire plan

Local Firefighters at the scene of a three structure fire in May, 2021. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette File Photo)



Residents in the County of Prince Edward will have an opportunity to shape the next fire service optimization plan.

In a way, they already have.

Phil Dawson, a consultant with Emergency Management Group (EMG), presented to Committee of the Whole last week a look at a Fire Optimization Plan drafted out of data collected over the past few months. It did not get very far.

Resounding complaints, over social media, emails and phone calls to councillors shaped the debate at Shire Hall before it even began.

David Harrison. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

As the Gazette reported last week, Mr. Dawson and EMG recommended two station closures, one in Cressy and another Ameliasburgh, a consolidation of the Hallowell and Milford stations into one station in Cherry Valley, and moving the current Wellington station North. The plan left the county’s outer regions seriously compromised in terms of service.

The accompanying diagrams, pictured here, showed a robust green area of gold standard fire service — and the outer regions of the county in grey. Meaning no service in an emergency, or service so slow it fell off the grid of National Fire Protection Association service standards.

Fire crews would respond to calls — but not fast enough for insurance companies. Property owners from Long Point to Huyck’s Bay could expect massive rate hikes. The entire eastern end of North Marysburgh, Waupoos, Waupoos Island, Long Point, Huycks Bay, and Huff’s Island Road in Ameliasburgh could expect serious service cuts.

“I’m going to be perfectly blunt,” said North Marysburgh Councillor David Harrison after hearing out Mr. Dawson’s presentation. “There will no closing of that Cressy fire station. Half of my constituents would be without service.”

The councillor noted that homeowners  in the grey area would be subject to double or even triple increases in their fire insurance premiums. 

“It’s totally unacceptable,” said Councillor Harrison.

Mr. Dawson explained that a “heat map,” based on numbers of fire calls, response times, and historical call data, informed the station consolidation and decommissioning options developed in the draft plan. The recommendations rated current station performance, equipment, staffing levels, and the number of calls the station attends.

“These are facts couched with standard regulations and industry best practices. The result, juxtaposing the information we’ve found, results in the draft recommendations,” Mr Dawson said.

Response times in the central portion of the County were green, indicating a maximum of 14 minutes response time, and therefore met what is called NFPA 1720, the gold (or green) standard in fire protection.

“There are difficult discussions and difficult decisions to be had,” said Mr. Dawson, “but the objective is to provide council with data-based information and options.”

Councillor Pennell noted that insurance premiums were lower the closer a home was to a station, and that 8 km tended to be the tipping point. Home owners in Cressy and Ameliasburgh could be in for a shock if both those stations were decommissioned.

Councillor Phil Prinzen. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“You remove them, there’s a lot of people that will be facing higher rates,” the councillor said.

Chief Chad Brown admitted he wasn’t an expert on house insurance rates, but noted, “neither of those stations are accredited in any way.”

Councillor Phil Prinzen, who doubles as a volunteer firefighter, noted that moving and consolidating halls might make response times look better on paper, but wondered if the County’s volunteer firefighters had been considered in the plans.

“You are talking bricks and mortar buildings. But there are a lot of volunteers that are passionate about their halls. There are a lot of residents in this community that never complain about their fire service because of what it does,” said Councillor Prinzen.

“Have you talked to the volunteers…or are these decisions just about equipment and buildings?”

Dawson said he was aware of the importance of the volunteer and career staff matrix, and said there was consultation during data collection with both, and that muster time and rolling to a call are part of the proposal. He added there was no plan to move away from a composite volunteer/career model of service.

Like Councillor Harrison, Councillor Brad Nieman was forthright in his assessment of the plan as presented.

“All I see in this report is nothing but spending money: closing halls, building new halls, spending on new equipment. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need any part of that. What we have in place now works.”

COTW received the consultants’ framework proposal and a motion tabled by Mayor Steve Ferguson that staff be directed to complete a public consultation through social media and the Have Your Say portal, among other methods, before drafting a final report was lost.

A subsequent motion by councillor Prinzen to scrap the entire process passed.

* Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated Mayor Ferguson’s motion was adopted by the COTW when in fact Prinzen’s motion halted the EMG report.