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Nanaimo Fire Rescue reviewing potential sites for future fire stations

City’s growing population, infrastructure, traffic congestion prompting study

Nanaimo Fire Rescue is looking into where it should locate future fire halls.

One area long considered for Fire Station No. 6 – Nanaimo currently has five fire stations, including one on Protection Island – was Hammond Bay, areas of which take a long time for fire trucks to reach.

Hammond Bay represents a 20 per cent portion of the area within the city limits served by Nanaimo Fire Rescue that fire trucks from Fire Stations No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 cannot reach within six minutes or even 10 minutes in some instances, but proposals for a fire station in the area were shelved several years ago.

During her annual report to city councillors Oct. 7, Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, said the fire department is reviewing where a fire station could be placed to provide more rapid response to the area, as well as to incidents elsewhere in city.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s incident response standard is to have the first truck with a four-firefighter crew arrive at a scene within six minutes of receiving an alarm 90 per cent of the time. With structure fires, an additional two fire engines and a total of 12 firefighters are to be on scene within 10 minutes of receiving an alarm 90 per cent of the time, but with the city’s increasing population, infrastructure and traffic congestion, response times are getting longer.

“We’re actually arriving on scene a bit slower,” Fry said during her report to council. “So in 73 per cent of incidents we’re arriving within six minutes and we measure it and we report on it to our crews … but the good news is, 90 per cent of our structure fires, we are making the standard. We’re at 95 per cent of having our … three apparatus on scene.”

READ ALSO: Nanaimo fire chief confident new station will be on time, on budget

In an interview last week, Fry said much of Hammond Bay, which has a lower frequency of fire incidents, is a long run for fire trucks from any station, unless a station is built in that neighbourhood. According to Nanaimo Fire Rescue records, the first truck and crew to tackle a fire that destroyed a house at 4969 Ney Dr. arrived on scene in just under seven minutes after receive the alarm. The other two apparatus and crews were on scene in just under 14 minutes.

“If we had eight fire stations I would definitely say we would have one in Hammond Bay, but currently we have just five and the number of calls for service into that area for fire-related calls are relatively lower, but the response times are longer,” she said.

The trick is to find locations where new fire stations could most effectively improve response times in areas with the highest need for service. One possibility, Fry said, could be a fire station near Long Lake that is close to Hammond Bay, but also boosts service to surrounding areas with rising population densities. Harewood, where development is increasing population and structure densities, might also regain a fire station.

RELATED: City council mulls emergency medical responder training for firefighters

Methods for estimating how quickly fire trucks can get to emergencies have been revised too. Response time estimates once were based primarily on posted speed limits, but road conditions, increasing traffic congestion and other factors, such as performance parameters of a large fire truck heavily laden with water and equipment, all weigh heavily on achievable arrival times. Amassed data, gathered from thousands of emergency responses annually in Nanaimo, help paint a more accurate picture.

“What we’re using is the average time that that specific apparatus can run,” Fry said. “So our big ladder trucks go a bit slower than the smaller engines.”

Fry said any potential sites for new fire stations are based purely on a “first blush” review and she hopes to bring in consultants to do an in-depth study to look at current and evolving factors for site selections and help the fire department write up a large master plan for future fire service.

“I think we’re going to try and see if we can work it into our budget planning for next year,” Fry said. “We’re going to, hopefully, try and get that into our budget without increasing cost to the taxpayers and have an informed decision.”
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