Chief presents detailed overview of city's firefighting operations
North Bay Nugget
 
Chief Tom Laughren provided an in-depth look at the Timmins Fire Department during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
 
“Last week was Fire Prevention Week,” he said.
 
“Our prevention officers were out at the (Timmins) Square, Porcupine Mall and other locations.

“I am not going to go through every point, but the bottom line with fire prevention is it is one we are mandated to do. We don’t necessarily have to do suppression but we have to do prevention.

“I think when you look at the numbers, especially actual fires, you will see the program we have in Timmins has been working for a number of years.”

The chief noted the department is “very proud of” the program, although he acknowledged it has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the bullets (in the written report that accompanied the chief’s presentation) talks about the volunteers not doing fire prevention and home inspections for the past year and a half because of the difficulty getting into people’s homes and feeling safe, but they are on it now,” Laughren said.

“It is something I think is very, very important for the community.

“Some of the things they have worked on in the past year include investigations, meetings, complaints, requests, training, research, inspections, new business.

“Again, it’s a busy agenda for three people. We have a fire prevention chief, who has been in the role for just slightly over a year and we have two prevention officers who are not quite two years yet.

“So, it is a new group that is very much learning and taking courses as we go through.”

The chief noted some of the services provided under Bylaw 2021-8521 structural firefighting, grass/brush firefighting, life threatening emergency medical response, motor vehicle extrication, water and ice rescue (out of Timmins and Connaught), hazardous material response at the operational level, airport firefighting and snowmobile and utility terrain vehicle rescue.

In terms of personnel, Laughren said, “The one thing we blessed with in this community is we have 36 career staff who are very, very dedicated to firefighting and the City of Timmins and we have 120-plus volunteers, who spend a lot of dedicated time in training, in responding to calls and participating in the community.”

The department’s career complement includes a fire chief, deputy fire chief, office manager, 28 suppression firefighters (four seven-person crews), three Fire Prevention Division officers and two Training Division
officers.

Meanwhile, the breakdown of the department’s volunteer firefighters shows 21 in Mountjoy, 17 in Schumacher, 29 in South Porcupine, 27 in Whitney, 11 in Connaught and 12 in Timmins.

“We usually bring on 17 to 20 new firefighters a year to replace those who are leaving,” Laughren said.

The department’s Mountjoy Station was built in 1983 and it currently houses three vehicles, a 1999 Chevrolet cube van (40 calls), a 2001 1,000-gallon Superior pumper (75 calls) and a 2010 Freightliner 1,800-gallon pumper/tanker (35 calls).

The five-year capital plan for Mountjoy includes painting the inside of the station ($5,000), purchasing a rescue truck ($200,000), purchasing a pumper ($650, 000) and purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and bunker gear ($105,000).

In addition, the 10-year plan calls for the purchase of a tanker ($380,000).

“As we look at the capital cost projections, the one thing I will emphasize is in general I think we, the fire department and the City of Timmins, have to start doing a better job on the maintenance of our buildings,” Laughren said.

“I think we have to start looking at roofs and windows because this would be one of our newer buildings in the city, but as you start going through some of the other ones you are starting to talk 60 and 70 years of age.

“Vehicles have changed. Vehicles have gotten bigger and in many cases we have actually broken out block and brick and moved steel beams to be able to put in bigger doors to be able to receive bigger equipment.

“As we move forward, the challenges in some of these older buildings, especially to get equipment in, unless we are going to order specific for that building, will become a little bit tougher.”

The chief noted one of the things consistently contained in the capital plans for each station is bunker gear.

“By legislation, it has to be changed every 10 years and it is a huge cost,” Laughren said.

“We try to do so many pair a year to be able to break that large number down into a reasonable number over that 10-year period, but when you are talking the number of volunteers and career we have, it becomes a huge expense.

“When we look at vehicles, what we really try to do look at a vehicle that would come to our main hall, which probably does 700-800 calls for service a year and utilize that vehicle for seven years and then turn that out into the volunteers to potentially get another 12 to 15 years out of it.

“To buy a new pumper today is slightly over $700,000 A new Aerial, you are talking getting closer to $2 million now.

“So, again, the costs are pretty substantial.”

The Schumacher Station was built in 1958 and it houses a 2010 Spartan 1,000-gallon 1050 pumper (74 calls), a 2005 Chevrolet cube van (19 calls) and a 2010 Freightliner 1,800 gallon pumper/tanker (26 calls).

The five-year capital plan for Schumacher calls for office renovations ($5,000), PPE and bunker gear ($87,500) and installation of an elevator ($500,000, may receive exemption).

In addition the 10-year plan calls for replacement of the pumper ($650,000).

“It is a very structurally sound building and very well maintained,” Laughren said.

“The Schumacher Fire Department does a great job, but again when you look at all of these slides you are not seeing windows, doors or roofs.

“Both Schumacher and Mountjoy back up the Timmins Station for a lot of the calls, to be able to have the right manpower at different calls.

“So, the value of the Schumacher and Mountjoy Stations goes well beyond just their wards.”

The chief noted the amount listed for an elevator is to “meet the new accessibility guidelines” expected to be introduced in either 2024 or 2025.

“Schumacher is celebrating their 100th year of existence,” he said.

“They came into being in 1921.”

The South Porcupine Station was also built in 1957 and it houses a 2005 Chevrolet cube van (36 calls), a Spartan 1,000-gallon 1050 Pumper (46 calls), a three-quarter ton GMC van (nine calls) and a 1973 aluminum boat, with a 50 horse power motor – (two calls).

The five-year capital plan for South Porcupine calls for the purchase of PPE and bunker gear ($110,000), a new boat ($30,000), removal of broken asphalt, regrading, adding granular A, repaving ($50,000), purchase of a new rescue truck ($200,000) and installation of an elevator ($500, 000, may receive exemption).

In addition, the 10-year plan calls for the purchase of a new pumper unit ($650,000).

“Again, it is a very structurally sound building,” Laughren said.

“Probably the biggest need in a building like this is the ability to handle the newer vehicles and the size of those vehicles.

“People on this council will remember we bought a used aerial three years ago from the City of Waterloo and the idea was to be able to put that in the South Porcupine Station, but it did not fit.

“And, if tradition held true, when we do replace the aerial in Timmins in 2027 that aerial would have gone to South Porcupine because that is traditionally where the handing down went, but this aerial we have in the Timmins Hall will not fit in South Porcupine, either.

“It will end up at the Whitney Station. We are very fortunate we have the new hall in Whitney and the ability to take different sizes of equipment.”

The Whitney Station, built in 2019 in collaboration with Northern College, house a 2008 one-ton cube van (30 calls), a 2004 Superior 1,000-GPM pumper/tanker (45 calls), a 2014 Spartan 250-GPM 1,650-gallon tanker (five calls), a 104-feet Rosenbauer aerial (two calls) and a rehab unit (nine calls).

The five-year capital plan for Whitney includes the purchase of PPE and bunker gear ($95,500).

And the 10-year plan calls for the purchase of a new rescue truck ($200,000) and a new pumper truck ($650,000).

“Because of its newness, there’s not much that needs to be looked at at this time,” Laughren said.

The Connaught Station was built in 1998 and it houses a 1999 Ford three-quarter-ton cube van (26 calls), a 1995 International 250-GPM 1,500-gallon tanker (two calls), a 1990 Lund 19-foot boat, with a 90 horsepower motor (two calls), two 2004 Skandic Skidoos and sleighs (0 calls), a snowmobile trailer (0 calls) and a 2004 Superior 1-000-gallon pumper/tanker (18 calls).

The five-year capital plan for Connaught includes the purchase of PPE and bunker gear ($42,000) and the replacement of the tanker ($375,000).

The 10-year plan calls for the replacement of the rescue truck ($200,000).

“It is a very valuable part of our station make up,” Laughren said.

The main Timmins Fire Hall was built in 1957 and it currently houses a 2004 Smeal 75-foot aerial, with 500-gallon capacity, (89 calls), a 2001 14-foot aluminum boat, with 25 horsepower motor (five calls), a rescue truck (159 calls, new truck to be in service April/ May), a 2018 Spartan 600-gallon pumper (805 calls) and a 2019 Polaris UTV (eight calls).

The five-year capital plan for Timmins calls for the purchase of a new rescue truck ($415,000, purchased 2021), purchase of PPE and bunker gear ($52,500, for volunteer firefighters), purchase of PPE and bunker gear ($196,000, for career firefighters) and the installation of an elevator ($500,000, may receive exemption).

In addition, the 10-year plan calls for the purchase of a new aerial truck ($2 million).

“Some of the challenges we have here include the size of vehicles, the original design of the hall, accessibility issues, especially with prevention and some of the training we do upstairs,” Laughren said.

“Whether we will need an elevator to meet the new guidelines or not is something I suspect we will be discussing in future years.

“Probably the biggest expense, which will be coming back to a future council, is the aerial truck.”

The Victor M. Power Airport Fire Station houses a 1987 Amertek airport fire truck, which requires an engine rebuild ($30,000) and a 1995 Titan airport fire truck.

“The two vehicles came over in the transfer from the federal government to the municipality,” Laughren said.

“They are both starting to get a little bit tired and need to be looked at, especially the 1987. It either needs an upgrade or we have to look for an engine for it.

“And the building definitely needs some work, roof replacement, and again that is something we work with the airport on to see if there is an availability of funding.”

The chief noted Timmins Fire Department’s overall budget includes $750,000 in remuneration for volunteers and $5,425,516 in wages for all paid staff and administration, as well as $624,500 in capital expenditures.

In terms of call volume for 2020, Mountjoy had 110, Schumacher 100, South Porcupine, 58, Whitney 58, Connaught 34, Timmins volunteers 440 calls (primarily backup if second call comes in) and Timmins career approximately 1,000.

“We average somewhere between a little over 1,000 to 1,100 calls, but we did see some anomalies in calls related to COVID-19, especially in the first wave,” Laughren said.

“With school buses and a lot of the traffic off the roads we did see a decline in calls for service but it mysteriously caught up even though for two or three months I would have thought we only made 900 calls, but it caught up and I think we were 1,050 or so.”

Given the summary of fire vs non-fire calls in 2020, the Timmins Fire Department might want to consider a little rebranding moving forward.

“When you look at fire departments and the calls we do, fire response is about 4.3 per cent,” Laughren said.

“Then, the non-fire responses are 95.7 per cent, when you are talking medical calls, false alarms, there are a variety of different type calls.

“Fire calls are definitely on the decline and that’s a good thing.”

Laughren presented a number of slides breaking down the types of calls responded to by firefighters from each of the stations throughout 2020.

“When you look at Connaught, the majority of their calls are medical calls,” he said.

“When you think of the location of Connaught from Timmins proper and South Porcupine, to get an ambulance there in under eight minutes would be very difficult, so the Connaught Fire Department really picks up on the medical calls out in that ward.

“They would be backed up by Whitney for any structural fire calls, just to help supplement their numbers.

“Whitney, a lot of their calls are alarm-activation calls, electrical and other type calls, medical calls, as well.

“South Porcupine is very similar and Schumacher medical would be a big one, electrical and other calls.

“Mountjoy is usually close to 200 calls a year, between calls in their ward and outside their ward.

“Calls in Ward 5 (Timmins proper), if you look at your CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), medical VSA (vital signs absent) calls, they make up a good portion of that … alarm activation from businesses, schools, etc. and vehicle collisions.

“I kind of get amazed when I listen on the radio during the day how many different vehicle calls we have had, even over the past couple of weeks.

“I think we will have to take a look at the different trends over the different times of year. You can go a period of time without hearing much about vehicle accidents and then it seems like you get a big rash of them.”

In addition, he presented a slide that showed 70 per cent of the calls received in the year for Timmins, 11 per cent for Mountjoy, six per cent for South Porcupine, five per cent for Schumacher, four per cent for Whitney, three per cent for Connaught and one per cent outside the city limits.

“The bulk of your calls are Ward 5 and Ward 1 and that is where the bulk of your population is, as well,” Laughren said.

On the subject of training, one of the slides presented by the chief noted it is delivered to all firefighters for safe and effective service delivery, including technical training, with the goal of ensuring firefighters acquire and maintain the skills and abilities so tasks are completed in a safe and efficient manner and all go home safely at the conclusion of any incident.

“None of my slides talk about the time, effort and dedication of not only the volunteers but career staff who spend a lot of time training for the different types of calls, training for new equipment,” Laughren said.

“To put on courses, with the effects of COVID-19, trying to do training in person became very tough. So, a lot of our training was done in smaller crews of four or five people.

“Last week, for example, for six-straight days we had an individual come in and do training for all who could attend, whether they were volunteer or career, on high-rise buildings and some of the technology that is out there.

“You could really tell by looking at people they were glad to finally be getting back together and getting some training in as a group.”

The chief noted one of the challenges his department has had when it comes to training is the closure of the Ontario Fire College campus in Gravenhurst.

“We continuously try to work with Northern College on putting these courses together, as well as well as some of the outlining fire departments so they can put the courses on and have the number of people required to at least break even, as it related to bringing in an instructor and bringing the courses in,” Laughren said.

“That is something that continues to be a challenge for us, to be sure.”

The chief also touched on the emergency management side of the equation during his presenation.

“That is another hat I wear,” Laughren said.

“We have probably declared more states of emergency in the last couple of years than the 10 or 15 before that.

“Let’s hope we don’t have to declare any more, but there is a reason for the declaration. It definitely gives us a lot of federal and provincial support.

“When you think of evacuations Timmins has hosted for a number of years now, I think the trend going forward will be to declare a state of emergency.

“It gives you a little bit more freedom on putting things in place quickly. So, I would think states of emergency for those types of events would become more of the norm, but I am hoping we never have to declare another one as it relates to COVID-19.”

The chief also touched on the mutual aid agreement the city has with some of its neighbouring communities.

“It was put in place in the ’50s and it goes up as far as Hearst, over to Matheson,” Laughren said.

“We do meet on a twice yearly basis. It is one since I have been in the role of chief we have not had to enact and it does not happen very often.”

The chief wrapped up his presentation by pointing out some of the challenges faced by Timmins Fire Department.

“Capital will always be an issue,” Laughren said.

“When we look at COVID-19, it has definitely raised the prices of fire trucks. It has raised the price of PPE. We know our bunker gear is up about 30 per cent right now and whether that will go back down as things turn around, I am not sure.

“We need to do a better job on building maintenance and it is something I am hoping to look at in January or February. What do our buildings really need and what kind of timelines do we need them in. What kind of budget will we actually need for some of these buildings?

“I suspect we could cut our heating costs down. There are many different things I think we need to be looking at.”

Laughren also indicated there is a shortage of firefighters with Class DZ licences to drive the fire trucks.

“When I was a young guy a coming out to get whether it was a Class D or Class A licence, it didn’t seem to be a challenge,” he said.

“Today it is a challenge. There are a lot of our recruits who struggle to get their Class D and their Z endorsements to be able to drive the larger fire trucks.

“That too is one we are looking at in house, to be able to do our own licensing, through our training branch. We have reached out to other businesses that have people who train in this. We know both College Boreal and Northern College have this, but again it is the cost and the time.

“We have people who are gung ho to drive but you need all the licences to be able to do it.”

Volunteer recruitment in some of the city’s wards continues to be a challenge, as well.

“In some wards, it’s easy and in some wards, it’s tough,” Laughren said.

“Recruiting in Connaught and in Schumacher has been a little bit of a challenge. In most of the other wards, in some cases we have a waiting list.”

Ward 4 Coun. Joe Campbell wondered about the need for elevators in the various fire stations.

“Is this mandated by law for safety reasons?” he asked.

“I can’t see how waiting for an elevator would be quicker than running down one flight of stairs.”

Laughren said, “It is not for safety, it is an accessibility issue. Do I think we are going to require them in the volunteer halls? Absolutely not, but we have identified it in case that were to come to us.

“In the Timmins Fire Hall can we work around not having an elevator related to accessibility? I am sure we can, but it wouldn’t be fair to fire administration or the City of Timmins if we didn’t at least identify there is at least potential.”

Meanwhile, Ward 5 Coun. Michelle Boileau inquired about the nature of the non-fire calls the department responds to on a regular basis.

“We are averaging about 25 per cent of the calls are going to medical emergencies and I don’t expect you to know this now but I am just wondering in the data are we able to extrapolate which of those calls were due to need and proximity or due to the fact all of the EMS vehicles were out on other calls because we are seeing an increase in calls?” she asked.

Laughren said, “It depends on the nature of the call. A lot of the calls, vehicle accidents as an example, we would be going for the potential of extrication.

“In most cases I am going to say because we are in a tiered response mode, it is natural for dispatch to call both (fire and ambulance).

“In many cases, we may be turned back or told to stand down on our way to those calls.

“Most of the medical calls we would go to would be if EMS was going to be longer than eight minutes or if there was a bigger requirement for more people.”

Meanwhile, Mayor George Pirie wondered about the difference between pumpers, tankers and pumper/tankers.

“What is the difference between them?” he asked.

Laughren said, “A tanker would normally be a vehicle that has I am going to say 1,500 to 1,800 gallons of water in it, where a pumper normally would be in around the 600 gallon mark.

“Tanker or pumper traditionally, from a pump perspective, can both pump the same amount. It is just really the amount of water.

“So, a tanker we would use a lot in a rural area, Connaught, Kamiskotia. If you look at Whitney’s tanker, as an example, it’s a 1,500 gallon tanker that has a small pump on it, specifically designed for the type of calls and roads they have out in the Ice Chest, Barber’s Bay areas.

“The tankers we have in Schumacher and Mountjoy, which are identical tankers, would be more for that long hauling of water in different areas of the city where you may have good roads but no hydrants.”

Pirie also wondered about the high volume of non-fire calls the department responds to each year.

“Strategically, there must be a need to change the composition of the fleet,” he said.

Laughren replied, “We are looking at that now. In most of our stations we have what we call a rescue vehicle, which is more like a one-ton cube van.

“We are now looking at pickups with the ability to carry four or five people and probably less equipment than you would carry in one of those bigger rigs, maybe looking at utilizing some of the other equipment we have to go to those calls, as well, versus having that third vehicle.

“Again, with the cost you can probably buy one-ton pickup for $70,000 to $80,000, while the one-ton cub type vehicle, once it is all put together you are probably talking $220,000 to $250,000.

“So, we are looking at different type of equipment, based on the different type of calls we have today.”

 

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