Council wrangles over fire station 5

by John Devine
City Scene Barrie

The future of an interim fire station to serve southwest Barrie got caught up in procedural wrangling at city council tonight (Monday), after Ward 1 Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth asked for a risk analysis and a due diligence report before funds for the station are spent.
She said she wasn’t looking for the funds allocated for ‘station 5’ to be removed, but was “only asking that we get all information available in order to make an informed decision.”
Following some discussion on Ainsworth’s motion, Ward 4 Coun. Barry Ward moved that the question be referred to the community services committee, chaired by Ward 2 Coun. Lynn Strachan, to allow staff time to respond to questions.
“This (council) isn’t the place to get staff input,” said Ward.
The community services committee met recently, and another meeting isn’t scheduled for a couple of months. However, Strachan indicated a meeting could be called quickly to handle the matter.
That outcome was delayed when Ward 7 Coun. John Brassard, chair of the Master Fire Plan committee that produced the 10-year strategy for fire services in Barrie, moved to table the motion for two weeks, until the next council meeting. Only four votes were needed for his motion to pass.
Despite the wrangling, Mayor Jeff Lehman said the interim station is still on track, that a location will be sought later in the year and that the hiring of firefighters to staff the station will proceed.
The twist is the latest development in a lengthy process of improving response times in the southwest part of Barrie, an enhancement deemed a priority by the fire plan; the city has set a standard of having 10 firefighters on the scene of a call within ten minutes, 90 percent of the time. That’s not happening in that quadrant of the city.
Last summer, a staff report indicated the interim station could be a reality by the fall of this year. (See this City Scene Barrie story for more information). However, during last week’s budget deliberations, general committee deferred spending the $2.2 million, including staffing costs, to develop the interim station, putting the budgeted funds into reserves.
The rationale provided for this shift was that there wasn’t enough time left this year to find an appropriate location and develop the interim station.
In her comments, Ainsworth also suggested the committee that produced the fire plan involved too many people involved in the fire services section, and that she wanted “unbiased” information.
She also provided information that she said indicated response times higher than the adopted standards were not unique to southwest Barrie. Ward 6 Coun. Michael Prowse, also a member of the fire plan committee, commented that the information was out of context.
Brassard said that while the committee did have members who were part of the fire services sector, it also had “a broad range of people” offering perspective and insight. They included municipal staff, the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office, which provided direction, and a consultant with a great deal of experience in developing such strategies.
The Master Fire Plan recommended an interim station because suitable land wasn’t available in the existing boundaries of Barrie. The plan is to build a permanent station in the annexed Innisfil lands, along with a training facility for firefighters. Because a permanent station would not be developed for several years, and an acute need in southwest Barrie was identified by the plan, the strategy was to move ahead with the short-term solution of an interim station.
The Master Fire Plan contains short-term, intermediate and long-term recommendations for the next ten years. It includes the development of a sixth station, this one to service northwest Barrie.
Brassard pointed out the Master Fire Plan, presented in 2009, was developed over two years, and that it was “not something that was thrown together.”
As for the composition of the committee, he said it was important to involve people with the appropriate expertise.
Prowse said he was not sure what additional information was available, and what would change, saying the debate “wreaks of fear (of) making a decision.”

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