THUNDER BAY – Some major questions about the future of fire services in Thunder Bay remain unanswered after city council received a new Strategic Master Fire Plan.
The report includes 15 recommendations, but on its most controversial topic – whether to reduce the number of fire stations in the city – it offers four possible options, with no recommendation for council on which to follow.
Council’s vote to receive the report Monday evening doesn’t bind the city to implement its recommendations. A further report on implementation from city administration will be presented to council by Dec. 14.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson pressed consultant Darryl Culley of Emergency Management and Training Inc., who prepared the plan in consultation with Thunder Bay Fire Rescue (TBFR), on which of four options on how to manage the city’s fire stations he would recommend.
However, Culley declined to settle on a single recommendation.
The options range between a “status quo” plan to replace the Vickers fire hall with a new, smaller building to a “realignment option” consolidating the Vickers and Water Street stations into one. Another option proposes converting the Churchill Drive station to an EMS station.
The city’s firefighters association raised the alarm over an earlier, draft version of the report, arguing its recommendations would cause longer response times and put firefighters in danger.
Acting fire chief Greg Hankkio told councillors more study is need before a decision could be made between the station options.
“There is a significant body of work that needs to be done yet,” he said, saying that could include public consultation.
Other recommendations in the plan include working with EMS to reduce the frequency of medical responses by firefighters, reviewing firefighter training, and more frequent fire officer inspections.
The report also puts forward an option to reduce overtime by trimming pumper/rescue crews to four responders, from five.
However, Culley told councillors the city's current staffing levels at TBFR were appropriate.
The four options for fire stations are the following:
- “Status quo:” Decommission aging Vickers Street station, build smaller station nearby and move TBFR administration to the Water Street station.
- Realignment Option 1: Consolidate Vickers and Water Street stations into one centrally-located station in the vicinity of Central Avenue and Balmoral Street. Relocate Churchill Drive station to Victoria Avenue and Tarbutt Street area.
- Realignment Option 2: Same as Realignment Option 1, but without relocation of Churchill Drive station.
- Realignment Option 3: Turn Churchill Drive station into an EMS station, with firefighters there assigned to medical response.
City administration will report back to council by Dec. 14 on implementation of the master plan.