West Hants taxpayers concerned for safety after council pulls plug on WFD

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on May 18, 2014

Falmouth resident Geraldine Miller, pictured holding her 18-month-old granddaughter Lynzie Benedict, of Garlands Crossing, is concerned for the safety of the area residents that will be impacted by West Hants council's recent decision to sever ties with the Windsor Fire Department.

Carole Morris-Underhill

West Hants residents are weighing in on the news that their municipal council voted to end its long-standing relationship with the Windsor Fire Department.

It's causing concern, confusion and frustration for some taxpayers, who feel like their voices are not being heard.

Geraldine Miller, a Falmouth resident who regularly attends West Hants council meetings, believes parting ways is a big mistake.

“Being used to the excellent service that we do get from Windsor, I don't know what kind of mess they are throwing us into,” said Miller of council's decision. She said there appears to be no concrete plan in place; no firefighters ready to man the new fire department, no way of knowing where their service would come from.

“I'm scared for what is going to happen to us if something does happen within the near future and we need service,” she said.

Miller said it's ridiculous to think fire trucks from Brooklyn, Garlands Crossing (which is the probable location for the new fire station) or Hantsport could get to Falmouth any quicker than the WFD. She also noted it doesn't make sense to have fire departments pass by Windsor in order to answer an emergency call.

She's also concerned with where volunteer firefighters will be coming from.

“Where are they going to get the volunteers to look after one or two new fire departments when the fire departments that are already existing are having trouble getting volunteers?” she asked.

Pat Alexander, who moved to Martock from Windsor in 2009, is also worried about losing the “exceptional” service currently provided by the WFD.

She doesn't understand council's rationale behind their decision to sever ties.

“If the municipality feels the need for another fire department, why would they build it five kilometres from one of the best in the province?” she asked, referring to the proposed Garlands Crossing site.

Living in the county, and relying on a wood stove for heat, Alexander says she already pays higher insurance premiums. She's afraid those rates will climb once the WFD is no longer their main service provider.

At an information session in Windsor last summer, an expert explained how insurance companies set rates. Alexander was one of the more than 500 people who attended the meeting.

John Redden, a public fire protection specialist at Fire Underwriters Survey, explained that a new station would be classified as an unknown entity. As such, rates would be affected.

“What happens with us is we can't give a rating to a fire station for a period of less than three years, which means the insurance rates you now enjoy will be the worst rates possible,” he said at the July 3, 2013 meeting.

Redden noted that if the new station was built and was associated with another fire department, the rates would still rise, but not skyrocket.

“It's possible, with the history of the other station, I can give them a grade within one to two years. But, during that time period, those stations will have an insurance rate of what we call Class 5 and Class 10, which are the poorest insurance rates that we give,” he stated.

The unknown costs associated with West Hants' plans to part ways with the WFD is what has Alexander, and others, worried.

“I've done a little digging on the cost of fire services and you can't convince me that two new fire stations are a sound financial move in these times, rather than sharing services,” said Alexander. “It just goes against everything, I think, that the taxpaying public is expecting of our elected officials.”

Both county residents feel voicing their concerns is of the utmost importance.

“I would just like to encourage everyone in West Hants to be vocal. I don't think it's a silent majority. I think we have to speak now; the time has come,” said Alexander.

“This ain't over yet,” Miller pledged.