Oshawa to move two firefighters to busy downtown fire hall

Oshawa will add two firefighters and a rapid response vehicle to the city’s busy downtown fire station after council approved a new fire master plan and community risk assessment.

The new plan sets the strategic direction for the fire department for the next decade.

Prior to the approval of the plan, staff at Fire Station 1, located at 199 Adelaide Ave. W. was heavily debated.

The Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association (OPFFA) has pushed for the addition of another truck to Station 1 which had two trucks until the fire department redeployed one — and its crew of four firefighters — after Station 6 opened in north Oshawa.

The truck was redeployed because Station 6 opened with no increase in staffing to Oshawa Fire Services.

In the draft fire master plan, the city’s consultants estimated adding another truck to Station 1, which would necessitate the hiring of 20 firefighters, would cost roughly $2.72 million annually.

Another option outlined in the report was to add a two-person truck, which would cost $1.63 million annually if new firefighters are hired to staff it.

In the finalized fire master plan Oshawa opted to add a two-person rapid response vehicle to Station 1.

However, it will be crewed by existing staff.

“Council has decided to do a two-year pilot project and use existing staff to operate that truck,” explains Oshawa fire chief Derrick Clark. “We’ll analyze it over that period and let (council) know how it went and what we need to do further, if anything.”

OPFAA president Peter Dyson expressed his disappointment in council’s decision and said the fire master plan document contained options that would better improve community safety.

“Council, the fire chief, everyone seems to agree now that there is a problem in terms of the number of firefighters at Station 1,” he said.

“(The consultant) clearly sets out that if you are going to have a two-person fire truck, you need to staff that fire truck, but this fire chief doesn’t appear to have a plan to staff it … and that makes us extremely nervous again about whether they’re going to take firefighters from another fire station to fix the problem.”

Dyson vowed that the association will continue to advocate for new hires and the return of a full-sized truck to Station 1, which is the busiest hall in the city.

Meanwhile, Clark points out the majority of the calls to the fire department are not fire-related and he believes the new two-person truck will alleviate pressure on the pumper currently stationed at Station 1.

The largest proportion of calls for Oshawa firefighters are medical calls at 26 per cent. False alarms account for 23 per cent, motor vehicle accidents and rescues are 20 per cent and fire calls are four per cent.

The chief believes adding the two-person truck to Station 1 will be able to respond to some of the non-fire calls, freeing up the larger pumper truck.

The biggest fire risk in Oshawa remains what are called Group C residential, or a typical house. Oshawa deploys 17 firefighters to a house fire and having the two-person truck won’t impact fire deployment, said Clark. 

“We’ll still be able to send 17 firefighters. We might send an additional truck now, sending five trucks instead of four, but we’re still sending 17.”

Prior to the 2020 budget, council approved three new positions for the fire department: three firefighters, one communications officer and an assistant to the deputy fire chief.

Clark said Oshawa leads Durham Region in fire staffing.

“We are the highest-staffed full-time fire service in the Region of Durham and our folks do a fantastic job day in and day out, very efficient at what they do, very professional and I’m very proud of all of our staff and the work that they do every day.”

The fire master plan looked at growth areas in the city, especially the north end in the Columbus area and in the future Kedron development north of Conlin Road between Ritson Road North and the Clarington border.

At least one new station in the north will likely be needed during the course of the 10-year plan.

“We really need to keep an eye on those sections of the city and we may have to build fire stations sooner rather than later depending on call volume and what we’re seeing up there for occupancies,” said the chief.

Clark said if Oshawa adds a seventh fire hall, the city will have to hire additional firefighters.

He’s also hoping the city will move forward with a new fire training facility in the near future. The plan is to erect a training facility on the city’s airport lands sometime within the next year to year and a half.

It would be a temporary site and the training facility would be modular and could be moved to a permanent site in the future, perhaps on the same site as a future seventh station in the north end.

The story behind the story: After more than two years of debate over the issue, Oshawa council has approved a pilot project that will add a two-person rapid response vehicle to its busy downtown fire hall.

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