The former Harewood Fire Hall is about to undergo more than $2 million in renovations to improve the building’s functionality as Nanaimo Search and Rescue’s headquarters.
Sod was turned Tuesday, Jan. 26, on the project, which will allow the search and rescue organization more space to house its vehicles and equipment and respond faster to calls.
The $2.6-million project will be done in two phases. The first phase is being paid for with a $1-million anonymous donation made to NSAR and $300,000 in grants NSAR secured from the province. Phase 2 will be paid for with $1.3 million from the City of Nanaimo’s 2022 budget.
One of the project’s goal will be to restore the four vehicle bays in the bottom level of the building, giving the building a total of six vehicle bays instead of two bays NSAR currently uses.
“This increases our response time. This allows all of our trucks to be inside and away from possible vandalism … all of our vehicles and equipment will be allowed to be stored inside in their own bays, allowing for easy access,” said Carly Trobridge, NSAR president and search manager.
She said a rigid hull inflatable rescue boat the organization purchased recently will be kept in the lower bays along with other vehicles when the project’s first phase is completed.
“It also allows us to run our command centre from this facility, which is huge for mutual aid, allowing parking for members [and] safety,” Trobridge said. “We can stage first aid here, we can feed and warm members and send them back into the field. It allows for much larger operations to occur with a lot more ease.”
The building, located at 195 Fourth St., was constructed in 1956 as a replacement for the original Harewood Volunteer Fire Department fire hall that was built in 1942.
R.W. (Bob) Wall Ltd. is the project’s general contractor. The renovation project will upgrade the building to modern building code standards. In the event of a major disaster it could be used as an emergency operations staging point, said Trobridge.
“It’s not an emergency operations centre, but without the designation it certainly could be utilized in that area…” she said. “It allows us to have a full training centre, a first aid training room, command offices, interview offices for RCMP, command planning offices, full bays, a rope tower. Many, many things.“
NSAR has 54 members, 45 of whom are search and rescue technicians who respond to more than 50 calls per year that range from locating people who become lost to technical rescues of injured patients in wilderness areas around Nanaimo. 2020 was a record year for calls for help to NSAR with 57 responses. The frequency of calls are increasing and types of calls NSAR responds to are changing, as well.
“We’ve gone from more large-scale searches for missing people – for lost people in the wilderness that might have been overdue – to quite a few more medical responses: injured hikers, injured ATVers, etc., and also for a lot of dementia patients within the community that have wandered from their homes,” Trobridge said.