Major changes recommended in Sarnia’s fire master plan
The Kingston Whig-Standard

Hiring more firefighters to staff a front-line ladder truck, hiring a second deputy chief and moving the location of Sarnia’s southernmost fire station are some of the recommendations in a new 10-year fire master plan for the city.

The plan, developed by Emergency Management & Training Inc. at a cost of $67,500, was presented to city council on Oct. 26 and updates Sarnia’s former plan from 2007.

All of the recommendations – there are 27, with about half needing council approval and the rest manageable internally by the fire service – won’t necessarily be implemented, said Fire Chief Bryan VanGaver.

“It’ll be recommendations from myself … working with council and coming up with what’s suitable,” he said.

More consultation and study is needed for many of the recommendations, he said.

The costs provided for some of the recommendations add up to between $1.7 and $1.9 million over 10 years.

“There’s a heck of a lot of money needed to support this plan,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley. “I do support a strong fire department. I’m not saying that the advice isn’t good,” he said, “but there’s some very heavy costs.”

Coun. Dave Boushy said he believes the city is already well protected.

“You’re going to have a hard time getting my vote for all of these,” he said.

The report noted Sarnia’s five stations can respond to fires within six minutes and 11 seconds 90 per cent of the time.

Four minutes is ideal yet challenging because of Sarnia’s sprawling geographic area – 165 square kilometres for a population of about 72,000, said Brian Arnold, Sarnia’s former fire chief who recently left to become chief in Cambridge but participated in the Oct. 26 council meeting via Zoom.

Thrown into the mix are responses to Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, a service agreement with Aamjiwnaang First Nation and more high-rises being built, prompting a recommendation to hire eight firefighters at a cost of about $800,000 to have an aerial truck on the front lines instead of in reserve, said Arnold.

The thrust of that recommendation is to reduce vertical response time – the time it takes to get to the floor where a fire is happening, he said.

Recommendations also include procuring an all-season craft for water rescues – the current Marine 1 craft is winterized from around October to April or May, VanGaver said – and building a new Colborne Road fire station. A call for proposals for that contract was expected to on Oct. 27, VanGaver said.

Moving the current Churchill Road station near Vidal Street South and Clifford Street some time in the next four to six years is another recommendation and would reduce travel time to Aamjiwnaang residences, but increase time to the band office, the report said.

It’s also recommended the city acquire land to build a sixth station in the area of London Line and Airport Road, and relocate station five – off Telfer Road – into Bright’s Grove.

A fire protection agreement with Aamjiwnaang needs updating, Arnold said, as it was signed in January 1988.

“It needs a complete rewrite,” he said. “It needs to reflect public education, fire prevention and emergency response expectation and needs of that community, and it should also reflect the true cost of providing those services.”

There’s been no consultation with Aamjiwnaang yet, said Emergency Management president Darryl Culley.

Bradley called that a mistake.

“I’m disappointed that dialogue didn’t take place,” he said.

Nearly three-quarters of local residents live within four-minutes travel time for the fire service, Arnold said.

The service is also working on a formal agreement with Sarnia police to use the same dispatching system beginning in 2022 or 2023.

On Oct. 27, the service announced Capt. Ken Dwinnell has accepted the position of deputy chief, taking over for VanGaver who was recently promoted to chief.

“I’m both humbled and excited for the opportunity for the opportunity work under the direction of Chief VanGaver as the new deputy fire chief and hope to continue to move Sarnia Fire Rescue Services progressively into the future,” Dwinnell said in a statement.

Dwinnell begins as deputy chief Nov. 2, city officials said, praising his loyalty to his co-workers and the department, his knowledge of daily operations and desire to move the department forward.

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