Fire department HQ getting a facelift that includes better training facilities.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

May 5, 2015


A City department that spends $28 million plus each year providing a service that really matters when there is an emergency is having a major renovation to their headquarters.

Fire station - addition

Fire department headquarters will have a new accessible front entrance a significant upgrades to the training facilities.

Burlington’s Fire Department is being renovated and expanded at a cost of $5.8 million – that’s less than the pier cost us and we are getting better value from the fire department.

While touring the fire department headquarters on Fairview with Fire Chief Tony Bavota a siren went off and three trucks rolled out the driveway. The Chief and I had stepped aside and I commented that it must be a serious fire call for three trucks to respond.

Fire trucks rolling out of HQ

Fire trucks roll out of the Fairview Street station on their way to a cal;l from a high rise.

The Chief looked at his cell phone and said he didn’t know if it was serious but he did know it was a call from a high rise – every call for fire trucks pops up on the chief’s cell phone.

Which high rise I asked – he gave the address – it was where I lived.

The Chief explained that a call could be anything from a false alarm or an electrical malfunction or an actual fire.
“We send out what we think might be needed to every call. When the trucks arrive they know what they are faced with and make an assessment.”

Assessing and knowing what they are up against is the mantra for the fire chief who will soon take over responsibility for Emergency Management in the city. Up until now it was city council working with the city manager who did oversight of emergencies.

The city’s response to the Via Rail derailment was enough to convince people that changes had to be made.

Changes had to be made to the fire department headquarters as well. The building was put up in the 80’s and hadn’t had an overhaul since then.

The city now has high rise dwellings which meant trucks with extendable ladders which meant the need for a garage to put them in.

There are now many more women serving as fire fighters which means segregated sleeping space and showers.

Fire department - trailer town for fire fighters

With renovations and upgrades being done to the fire department headquarters the crews on the night shift sleep in trailers put in place for them.

Of the 203 people who actually fight the fires – 24 are women; 197 of that 203 are unionized – a fact that gives the city’s finance people serious indigestion.

The offices on the top floor needed upgrading and space for training had to be improved. There is a room that smoke is piped into allowing fire fighters to practice carrying a person down a set of stairs in a smoke filled room.

The job of a fire fighter is practice, practice and more practice so that the day there is a blaze – they know exactly what they are supposed to do.

The communications command is currently located at the Appleby station. It will be relocated to HQ as the renovation is completed. Collen Nimmo will head up the communications department.

The $5.8 million dollar upgrade that should be completed by the end of the year – Craig Stevens, the project manager advises that the project is on time and slightly under budget. Stevens managed the building of the Performing Arts Centre – it too was on time and on budget.
Equipment costs are high – a fire fighters suit and helmet don’t last very long – they are stored in a ventilated space to prolong their life – come in at around $2500

Constant training and upgrading of their knowledge base as to what they are facing when the trucks race to a fire is what occupies most of a fire fighters time.

The homes in Aldershot were made of different kinds of building material than those in the Orchard or Alton.

The older building materials burn differently than what is being used today and fire fighters have to know what they are dealing with.

High rise buildings are something quite a bit different. I now live in a high rise and I knew that if there was a fire the first thing I had to do was fill the bathtub with water and put a water soaked towel at the bottom of the door. After that – I really didn’t know what else to do.

The chief explained. A concrete high rise is actually a pretty safe place to be. You can get a sense as to how much danger you might be in by touching the metal door of your apartment – as long as it is not hot – you are safe. My door is wooden I explained – touch the handle then the chief replied.

The Chief is currently involved in negotiations with the fire fighters union – that’s probably the toughest job the Chief has at this point.

Fire pumpet - boots at door

Fire trucks are always at the ready – look closely – boots are in place ready for a fire fighter to jump into as they race towards the truck.

There are more fire fighters on the provincial Sunshine list (those making more than $100,000 annually) than any other city department.
Is there anyone who knows a fire fighter who doesn’t sell real estate of have a part time business?

Meeting the payroll for firefighters is difficult – understanding the logic behind the claims the fire fighters make is a challenge.
Burlington’s fire fighters are well organized – and they aren’t shy about lobbying city council.

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