November 29th, 2021

City council approves updated fire response plan

By COLLIN GALLANT on January 5, 2021.

A Medicine Hat Fire Service fire truck races up Sixth Avenue in this September 2018 file photo. City council approved an updated strategic fire plan on Monday in further effort to avoid the need for another fire hall until closer to the end of the 30-year plan.--NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT

A new strategic fire response plan recommends mandatory automatic sprinkler systems in several future communities, plus a potential city subsidy on the systems in all new home construction, council heard on Monday.

The move would reduce damage and allow the Medicine Hat fire service to manage how it meets nation standards while avoiding the need for another fire station until near the end of the new plan’s 30-year time frame.

“Our response time in residential areas is excellent,” said Chief Brian Stauth in an address to council’s meeting.

“We know that will change as our city grows, but we’re well situated and well prepared to respond to calls well into the future.”

With at least 30 of the city’s 85 firefighters in the gallery, councillors accepted the report with an 8-0 vote.

It lays out the potential operational challenges and general operational hurdles until 2050, along with the potential to avoid incremental costs, according to Stauth.

The department will maintain staffing levels and operations until a workforce study can be concluded into the potential of reducing overnight staff, and potentially use a pool staffing system to reduce overtime.

It argues that response crews should be maintained at four persons, and intermunicipal cost sharing is also discussed, potentially toward a new station in the north end to cover commercial and industrial growth near Redcliff.

The plan replaces the previous one from 2012, which was quickly amended with an “optimization plan” to avoid a fourth station being added.

It moved stations Nos. 1 and 2 to more strategic locations to expand coverage, especially in the city’s south.

It’s also led to fire service bettering response time to five minutes and 53 seconds, on average, in 2020, below the national standard of arriving at 90 per cent of calls within 6:20.

The 2020 plan states response standards can be maintained with three existing stations (on Trans-Canada Way, in Riverside and at Medicine Hat Regional Airport), until substantial new housing is built in the city’s north end, potentially after 2035.

Last year, council passed a special measure requiring that sprinkler systems would be a requirement for new homes built in the proposed community of Coulee Ridge, deep in the city’s southwest quadrant. At the same time the city provided a $2,500 grant to homeowners to offset the costs of including them during construction.

That could be expanded to other communities and new home infill construction making it “vastly less costly” than a new $10-million fire hall that would cost $3 million per year to staff, equip, insure and operate.

For existing subdivisions, the service expects the response times can be met when they are completely built out, potentially in 2025.

Coulee Ridge, and Ranchlands 4, once known as Riverwalk, are the only areas in the mid-term schedule to be completely outside response times, but should have sprinkler requirements. Far south and rural communities would also benefit if the long-proposed Southwest Connector road is built between S. Boundary Road and Gershaw Drive. It would reduce times from the airport station.

Other greenfield residential areas expected on a 2035 build-out time table fall in the response time coverage areas of existing stations.

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