Moldy bathrooms, cramped quarters, and gear that off-gasses potentially carcinogenic fumes into the main fire hall are but a few of the safety concerns cited by members of the Hantsport Fire Department.
But, firefighters are optimistic those concerns may soon be addressed.
Following West Hants council’s recent budget discussions, council agreed to keep a $2.4 million line item for a fire station in its capital expenses.
“It needs so much upgrading in the actual station that it probably makes more sense to build new rather than injecting money year after year after year on temporary fixes to maintain it,” said Warden Abraham Zebian in a phone interview.
“Overall, the No. 1 concern is safety. We value our firefighters. We value the volunteers. God forbid, for a safety reason, something happens to one of them that a new station could have solved.”
Zebian said council is in favour of building a new fire station, but the decision is now in the hands of the transition committee. All new capital spending must be vetted by the committee that’s tasked with merging the municipalities of Windsor and West Hants into one entity by April 2020.
“That committee will ultimately have to put its stamp of approval on all projects before they can proceed,” said Zebian, who sits on the committee.
Paul Maynard, a long-time deputy fire chief with the Hantsport Fire Department, said he’s optimistic the firefighters will be able to move forward with the project.
“After listening to some discussion, I think council is supportive of it. I think they have a real tough job ahead to try to balance the budget and look at all the needs and prioritize,” said Maynard.
“I think we’re all on board that as long as we can keep moving the process of getting a building… forward, that’s good news for us.”
Maynard said once they know the station has been budgeted for, a request for proposals can be issued to get a better idea of building design, location, and costing.
“The longer we wait to put out an RFP, or get plans developed and find a site, it’s just going to delay it another year,” said Maynard. “We’re hoping the transition committee recognizes that this is a project that’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of effort. We just want to make sure that they’re allowing us to move forward with this.”
Maynard said the earliest that work could start on a new station would be this fall.
MOUNTING SAFETY CONCERNS
In light of the safety concerns expressed by Hantsport firefighters, Maynard said the fire department has requested air quality tests be conducted while they wait for approval to begin planning a new station.
“We’re going to do two things: we’ve requested through the CAO a company to measure the air quality in the fire station as well as we’d like an independent occupational health and safety professional,” said Maynard, noting that an OHS representative could rank the safety issues in order of priority so that the department could try to mitigate the most-pressing issues.
A report was presented to council in 2018 outlining the safety concerns. Plans got underway to rectify the most pressing issues, but Maynard said they’re largely temporary fixes.
The existing station wasn’t built to accommodate the size of today’s standard fire trucks. There’s not enough space between the vehicles.
“We are going to proceed and get a little more formal with the process of documenting the safety issues that we have at the fire station, following comments that came out of council in the budget discussions,” Maynard said, noting there’s been several near-misses involving firefighters and the fire trucks coming and going from the station.
Due to the limited space, gear stalls were moved from the apparatus bay to the main building, which is also not an ideal situation.
While responding to emergencies, firefighters come into contact with a variety of contaminants. The concern is that those contaminants are now leaching out into the general atmosphere.
“We know through recent studies it’s a major concern of the fire service in terms of off-gassing and (having) carcinogens… in the air,” said Maynard.
The deputy fire chief said they do their best to decontaminate the gear at the scene before heading back to the station. Uniforms then get washed, but it takes several days to process multiple sets.
“While the gear sits there waiting to get washed, it’s still off-gassing,” said Maynard.
“Our members are… breathing in the bad gasses and carcinogens.”
Capt. Mark Turner, a former Kentville firefighter who has spent the last two years in Hantsport, and safety officer Misty Huntley, a former Canning firefighter who has spent the last five years with Hantsport, both have concerns about the station’s safety.
“The space within our station right now is limited. Being able to walk down between a truck is an issue,” Turner said.
“Trying to bring a vehicle in off the main road, you have to turn in actual traffic to be able to back the vehicle into the fire station,” he added.
“The list goes on. It’s time (for a new station).”
Huntley said firefighters meet, workout and spend time in the main building, increasing their exposure to the off-gassing uniforms.
“If we had another call and had other departments come in to our station to do stand by, now they are all exposed to that as well,” said Huntley.
“When you go into those other departments, they have an actual area that you can go and you can sit; you can be away from all of those gear bays and stuff like that. In our case, everything is wide open so in order to even go to the washroom, you have to go past our gear stalls.”
The kitchen, which was frequently rented out by various community groups, failed inspection a few years ago and can no longer be used. The site also no longer operates as a comfort centre in times of emergency.
While a location for a new station hasn’t been decided — there was talk about combining it with West Hants’ public works department — Maynard said he hopes it’ll remain within Hantsport.
“We have one of the biggest industries in the municipality — CKF — that we provide primary protection for that industry,” said Maynard.
“We provide service into Kings County. As far as station location, I think there has to be a station in Hantsport. At some point, really, our wish is to get permission to start moving forward.”
All agree it’s time for a new station — and they’re optimistic council will come through.
“Council has heard loud and clear. The decision is at council and we have trust in them,” said Turner.