New firehall needed for downtown Abbotsford

New firehall needed for downtown Abbotsford

Department eyes new location for replacement of Hall 6

The Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS) will build a new downtown firehall and relocate the crews and equipment currently situated at its aging West Railway fire station.

It’s hoped the move will lead to quicker response times, but Abbotsford will also need to create two new stations if it hopes to keep up with population growth in the years to come, according to a new plan for the city’s fire stations approved by council this week.

The report suggests that the AFRS struggled to meet quick-response targets, with crews arriving speedily on scenes only three-quarters of the time in 2016, according to a report prepared for the AFRS by a private company. The figures were compiled before council gave the service money to hire six new firefighters this spring.

Although the AFRS aims to get to urban incidents within seven minutes and to rural locations within 14 minutes, they did so only 73 per cent of the time in 2016, up marginally from 2015. The goal is to meet the targets 90 per cent of the time, a benchmark not met any month over the two-year time period examined. The report does note that the 90 per cent goal “is too aggressive for most fire services.”

It took longer for crews to reach reported fires than car accidents or medical distress calls, with targets met just 58 per cent of the time.

The report found that response times were affected by “driving, distance, unit availability and turnout problems.” The driving and distance factors suggested “either suboptimal locations, or the potential for service improvement from additional stations,” the report states. Unit availability suggests the need for more equipment.

The department’s new master plan outlines several strategies to boost its performance, of which the relocation of Hall 6 is the costliest endeavour. That hall – which is aging and will soon require replacement anyway – will be relocated elsewhere in the historic downtown or city centre area to improve performance in Abbotsford’s core. Doing so is estimated to cost around $8 million.

The department also says it will start to provide its two main halls with a new two-person crew and a smaller vehicle that allows firefighters to respond to calls that don’t require a full four-person engine. Currently, smaller calls still require crews use a large fire engine.

Further down the line, the department predicts it will have to spend around $5 million on seismic upgrades and other improvements to its Hall 1 on George Ferguson Way in the Clearbrook area. And once new development starts popping up on Sumas Mountain and McKee Peak, a ninth firehall will need to be built. That, though, isn’t expected to take place for more than a decade.

And in order to actually improve from the current performance,

The report suggests two new stations will be required over the next 35 years as Abbotsford grows.

“Make no mistake: Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service will need to add resources to keep pace with growth in the community,” Fire Chief Don Beer told council.