Gravenhurst council extinguishes proposal for new aerial fire truck
Muskoka Region

Gravenhurst council got heated as members debated whether to commit to purchasing a new aerial fire truck.

The topic was discussed at the special council meeting reviewing the 2021 budget held virtually on Sept. 17.

Gravenhurst’s fire chief, Larry Brassard, presented a report about the town’s aging truck and its need for a new one, which has been discussed at council since 2015.

The truck in question is a 2001 pumper/rescue truck, which reaches the end of its 20-year serviceable life next year and is scheduled to be replaced under the town’s current fleet replacement plan.

The current fleet consists of three “tankers” primarily designed for rural environments without many tall buildings. Meanwhile, an aerial fire truck is used in more urban areas, as it allows for rescue from buildings above three stories.

However, as Brassard pointed out, Gravenhurst is seeing many new developments, including the Skyline and Muskoka Bay developments at the south end of town.

“In addition to the risks associated with the existing building stock as previously reported, these additions amplify the need for an aerial device in the respectful view of fire and emergency services staff. When built, the town will have 19 residential buildings or hotels four stories or taller,” says Brassard’s report.

“For Gravenhurst, a mid-mount platform equipped aerial ladder capable of being extended at least 70 feet in height would address the risk associated with the majority of the community’s existing and anticipated building stock,” it says.

The report presented four options to council: the first being to purchase a new aerial apparatus; the second being to purchase a new pumper/rescue apparatus; the third being to purchase a previously owned aerial apparatus; and the fourth being to defer the replacement of the existing pumper/rescue truck to a future year.

The first option, which was recommended by the fire department, was estimated to cost between $1.4 to $2 million, $500,000 which could be covered by the town’s development charges, plus $900,000 to $1.5 million in tax dollars.

The second option, the alternative recommendation from the fire department, would cost about $750,000 and consist of tax dollars, as this project cannot be covered by development charges.

Councillors were split over whether to purchase an aerial truck or a pumper truck and debated the matter for nearly two hours.

Gravenhurst is in mutual aid agreements with Bracebridge and Rama, which have aerial trucks that can be sent to Gravenhurst if necessary.

Beyond funding the project, questions were raised about how the decision — or the deferral of the decision — could affect the town's liability if a tragedy occurred and the victims wanted to sue the town.

“The protection that we get through liability and litigation is that you have made that policy decision. Since 2015, there has been no decision made and until such time as a decision is made, we do have greater risk,” he explained.

Coun. Penny Varney, Coun. Heidi Lorenz and Mayor Paul Kelly voted in favour of purchasing a new aerial truck, whereas the five remaining councillors voted in opposition.

Ultimately, councillors voted to approve option two: a new pumper/rescue apparatus, subject to final approval of the 2021 capital budget. The motion was carried with five votes in favour. Coun. Penny Varney, Coun. John Gordon and Coun. Heidi Lorenz opposed.

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