Coun. Joe Virdiramo (left) and Thunder Bay Fire Rescue Chief John Hay say a new Westfort fire hall located on West Frederica should lower response times throughout the ward.
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Coun. Joe Virdiramo said he held council and administration’s feet to the fire when a plan to relocate the Westfort fire hall arose.
The long-time council veteran said he wanted to be sure residents in his ward would not be impacted in abandoning the aging 64-year-old Brown Street station. Plus he wanted to be sure the money was well spent.
“It was a heavy expenditure, like $7-million worth,” said Virdiramo on Wednesday, following a groundbreaking ceremony at the new site.
“I studied the 1992 reports. I studied all kind of reports for strategic planning for fire and ... I asked the questions, why here, why two stations, why not one station. And all those questions were answered in a positive way.“
The main selling point was improved response times throughout the expansive ward, which Fire Chief John Hay said they wanted to reduce to an average of six minutes, a goal that can also be reached in south Neebing Ward with the new location.
“It’s bigger than that,” Hay said. “Areas that were getting 11-minute and 12-minute response times are now down to seven and eight (minutes). It’s quite an improvement overall for that. The goal is six minutes, but there are some limitations to how often we could do that.”
Hay said the fire service, with the help of city administration, took a comprehensive look at the state of Thunder Bay Fire Rescue’s infrastructure, a process that laid out what needed to be done and when.
“It’s just timely. I think our infrastructure, some of it was finished for age and we just happen to be getting at it at the right time.”
The Westfort fire hall is one of five ongoing projects being undertaken at this time. The mould-infested Neebing fire hall is also being replaced, while renovations are being made to the James Street, North Central and Vickers Street stations to accommodate EMS operations.
Neebing Coun. Linda Rydholm said firefighters at the Neebing station have had to adapt to new surroundings a couple of times since the mould issue was uncovered.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Rydholm said. “Our firefighters have been working in building that had mould, then they were working in a trailer. During construction they will be working at North Neebing Community Centre on Rosslyn Road. Finally in 2014 they will be in a modern facility at the 20th Side Road location and we’ll have great services for the ward.”
Rydholm said making major expenditures is always a tough decision, but in this case it’s a matter of safety and modernization to accommodate today’s larger firefighting equipment.
“Yes, it’s the right time, maybe later than the right time, to have these new fire halls built.”
Gerry Broere, manager of the city’s construction division, said it’s the first time they’ve had a truly integrated planning process.
The new buildings have embedded urban design guidelines, using sustainable materials that will not only increase the life of the building, but cut down on annual operating costs.
“We brought that all together to create not only an architecturally appealing building, but a functional, sustainable constructive building,” he said.
Features include large glass windows that will reduce the need for electrical lighting, improved stormwater management, the use recyclable materials and durable construction.
“It all pulls it together,” he said.
Construction of both new facilities is expected to be completed by June 2014.
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