Highlands East firefighters are pushing back against reports their halls are in poor condition.

The Highland Grove fire department held a community meeting Dec. 7. More than 20 people attended to discuss recent consultant reports, including an organizational review that recommended closing fire halls and facility conditions assessments on the halls.
Highland Grove fire captain Tom Burroughs said he would not deny repairs are needed at his station. But he added a facility assessment – which suggests there are $567,500 in repairs in 2019/20 – is exaggerated.

“Their numbers are way, way too high,” Burroughs said. “It’s functional, it’s servicing the community. As life safety goes, that’s what’s mainly important to us.”

The facility assessments from consultant WalterFedy examined all municipal buildings. They highlighted Highland Grove as one of the poorest condition buildings in the municipality and recommended consideration to decommission it.

“It is clear that the building is no longer able to meet its intended function, and that a larger space is needed,” WalterFedy said in a summary report.

Recommended repairs included replacing doors, windows and roofing. It also said the hall is too small, with two bay doors for three vehicles.

The report also said the station has no floor drain and recommended $50,000 to install one. But Burroughs stated there is a floor drain there.

“It cost this township to have someone tell us this drain doesn’t exist,” captain Gary Burroughs said. “If we end up losing a fire hall because of all the talk about this, that’s what our concern is.”

The recommended costs included in the reports, and their dates for replacement, are based on typical life-cycles.

Highlands East chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter said on behalf of WalterFedy that it is possible the drain was under a truck and could not be seen. But she added the current drain would need an inspection for issues.

“Further review would be required to see the effectiveness of the current drain,” Hunter said.

Tom Burroughs discussed the history of Highlands East exploring fire services. The municipal fire committee is reviewing five different options, including the status quo, reducing from five halls to three, shifting equipment and building a new, central hall.

Highland Grove firefighters were not the only ones to take issue with the report. WalterFedy assessed the Highway 28 fire station is in bad shape and needs $150,720 in repairs. But the recommendations drew criticism, such as $12,000 for kitchen refurbishment.

“The numbers that are posted are to replace things that are wanted. The things that are needed are very minor,” station captain Adam Szelei said. “It’s a fraction of what they’re asking.”

Firefighters also critiqued the maintenance the municipality has done at the halls over the years.

“Building’s don’t go bad overnight,” Burroughs said. “They haven’t been doing their job up till now.”

Chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter said for recent maintenance at Highland Grove’s hall, the municipality spent $18,080 for thermal wall barriers in 2018 and $3,107 for lights in 2019.

Burroughs asked the community to act as a watchdog going forward.

The WalterFedy report suggests a new hall at Highland Grove would cost between $1 and $1.3 million. Hunter said that price is based on the size of the existing structure, approximately 3,800 square feet, with 20 per cent additional capacity and on $200-$250 per square foot price for construction costs. She added the price could be less if something smaller was built.

Firefighter Stephane Stern told the meeting spending that much is not necessary.

“None of us care if we’re in a tin shed,” Stern said. “As long as we put the key in the ignition and it rolls out and we can get to you in a hurry, that’s all we care about.”

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