Beaver Lake residents pushing for more fire protection
The Sudbury Star

Brenda Salo says she and her neighbours live in fear.

They are afraid of what would happen if there was a need for a fire response in their neighbourhood of Beaver Lake, at the western reaches of Greater Sudbury. In fact, Beaver Lake, which is in Ward 2, is closer to Nairn Centre than to many other parts of the Nickel City.

The problem, Salo told The Star, is that a good portion of the Beaver Lake area lies north of Highway 17, along the Spanish River, through Worthington (where Totten Mine is located) and along the shores of Fairbank Lake. The Lake Wabagishik area is also part of Beaver Lake. There are several back roads north of the highway where residents have built their dream homes.

But Salo and many of her neighbours feel unprotected by a fire service she said is inadequate. Salo said she wants to see more volunteer firefighters join the ranks of their Ward 2 kin.

As Salo explained, the Beaver Lake fire department, which is adjacent to the welcome centre on Highway 17, is twinned with the hall in Whitefish, which is located on Municipal Road 55. Both are short volunteer firefighters. Salo said Whitefish is short seven volunteers and Beaver Lake, ten. She said there are actually only three active volunteers at the Beaver Lake fire hall.

“Right now our station is considered a satellite of Whitefish,” Salo said. “Our station can’t function on its own. Between Whitefish and Beaver Lake, it’s 590 square km and it’s actually serviced by less than 50 per cent of the complement it needs. If Whitefish were to have a fire, our truck would be dispatched along with theirs, and that would leave us with no protection, and vice versa.”

Salo pointed out the Whitefish and Beaver Lake fire halls also respond to incidents on Highway 17, which can further occupy resources.

Salo distributed a flyer a couple of weeks ago to her neighbours, seeking their input on fire service in Beaver Lake. A day after they were passed around, she said she had already gotten 21 emails.

Salo is working with some of her neighbours and she said they will be approaching the city.

“We feel we’ve been seriously compromised,” she said. “Yes, the city advertised they were looking for volunteer firefighters for 30 days, but no one has responded to me at all as to do we have any applicants or any response to the flyers. The flyers were dropped off at an empty fire hall in an envelope, so they did not go out (in a timely fashion).”

Salo said she and her neighbours “have been compromised for seven or eight years, maybe longer,” despite the fact the city continues to collect taxes.

“They’re not doing anything about it,” Salo said. “What are they waiting for? A major fire where somebody dies?”

Salo said their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

“We got nowhere and we’re kind of at our wit’s end,” she said. “We’re afraid to go into the summer season with such a poorly staffed fire department. We don’t feel protected.”

Jesse Oshell, deputy fire chief, said earlier this week Beaver Lake gets the same fire service as all other burroughs in the city.

“Based on the information given and received, the closest fire station is dispatched, plus any other specific resource that is required for that particular emergency,” he said.

Because the Beaver Lake and Whitefish fire halls are twinned, Oshell said they are dispatched simultaneously. Response times vary from 10 to 30 minutes, Oshell said, based on a number of factors. A guaranteed response comes from Station 4 on Long Lake Road when warranted.

Oshell said the city wants to work with residents of Beaver Lake to find mutually acceptable solutions. In the meantime, the recruitment of volunteer firefighters is underway. Oshell said the city recently undertook a multi-pronged campaign aimed at increasing the number of active volunteers. A full complement of volunteer firefighters is about 350, but currently there are only about 200 offering their time.

Resident demands are simple. Salo said she and her neighbours want the city to staff the Beaver Lake fire station with an adequate number of firefighters, whether they are career or volunteer. But she also said she is not willing to pay higher taxes.

“They’re (the city) claiming their hands are tied, but we’re claiming their hands are not tied,” she said.

There are things the city could do to boost volunteer numbers. Salo said the committee with whom she is working would like to see a program established at Cambrian College or College Boreal to train volunteer firefighters.

Salo said there are lots of younger residents she believes would be willing to volunteer, but it is a matter of engagement and approach. She said the city needs to engage residents with respect and a willingness to collaborate.

“Otherwise, we’re going to lose it all,” she said.


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