Highland Grove residents expressed concern over a perceived threat to the future of their fire hall at a public meeting March 29.
Highlands East Station 2 firefighters explained their worries to more than 30 people about a 2010 report brought forward at a fire committee meeting March 11. The report recommends the closure of Station 2 in an effort to save costs by amalgamating municipal fire services into fewer stations.
Station 2 Fire Chief Doug Bowen questioned why the report was the first thing the committee was exploring.
“I was told the information was outdated and might not necessarily address today’s concerns. That no decisions have been made,” Bowen said to the audience. “After discussing it with my fellow firefighters, we are unanimous in doing anything possible (against) one of the recommendations (the report) made to council, to close Station 2.”
Mayor Dave Burton said in an interview the report was brought forward as a starting benchmark for the committee. He added council does not yet have any intentions regarding the municipality’s five fire stations.
He further said that in a separate meeting with the Station 2 fire department, he assured them the municipality was not going to close or amalgamate fire halls.
“It’ll be up to the committee to give some recommendations brought forward for council’s consideration. But there’s been no decisions, no recommendations,” Burton said.
The 2010 report also recommended the closing of Station 5 in Tory Hill, which was eventually done. It also suggests closing Station 1 in Bicroft, moving its operations to Station 6 on Highway 28.
After 2010, the plan surfaced again in December 2016, when fire chief Bill Wingrove presented to council in favour of its recommendations.
The report said the fire stations are costly to maintain and “the desire to provide consistent fire and first responder emergency services, in the present format … is operationally very challenging and quite possibly financially impossible.”
“Three fire stations, fewer fire trucks and fewer firefighters will bring positive results in the long term,” the report concludes.
Highland Grove resident Angela Lewis said the community has pushed against the closure of Station 2 before.
“This is my third time around fighting for this,” Lewis said. “It’s up to us to just keep fighting … we have been fighting for everything we have in Highland Grove.”
Burton said the municipality is undertaking a review of all of its facilities in search of efficiencies.
“The halls that we have were put there for a reason. I’m not sure if amalgamating is the answer,” he said.
But he noted maintaining equipment at the halls is pricey.
“I have pretty well three vehicles in each one and that’s very expensive to replace,” Burton said.
Before the first committee meeting, acting fire chief Chris Baughman said the group aims to help identify improvements that could be made to service delivery.
“We have five halls with duplicate equipment that respond in three response areas,” he said. “(The committee) will also aid in determining if there is any unnecessary duplication of equipment or services attending the same incidents.”
Station 2 firefighter Stephane Stern said closing halls would increase response times, which are important in an ageing community.
“We don’t want any hall taken away,” Stern said. “If we’re planning on improving services, improving doesn’t mean removing.”
An online petition opposing the closure of Highlands East fire halls has 61 supporters as of April 3.
The next fire committee meeting is April 8 in Wilberforce at 7 p.m.