Caledonia fire chief defiant on proposed new comfort centre rules

The local fire chief in Caledonia, N.S., says he'll defy any municipal directive that says his fire station can't operate as a comfort centre during storms.

"If there's a need for it, the doors will be open," said Chris Wolfe, fire chief at the North Queens Fire Department.

The dispute between Wolfe's fire station and the Region of Queens Municipality started shortly after Hurricane Dorian hit Nova Scotia on Sept. 7, 2019, and knocked out power to 80 per cent of the province.

Wolfe wasted no time and opened the doors to the fire hall in Caledonia and urged anyone who needed help to come in.

On Tuesday night, the Region of Queens Municipality council met. Among the topics discussed was measures related to comfort centres.

Curbing spending

"Current agreements with fire halls for comfort centres will be terminated as they are not being adhered to," wrote Brian Hatt, the emergency measures co-ordinator, in the council agenda.

He wrote that some of the issues that came up were "fire departments and community centres setting up comfort stations without being asked to do so and then expecting reimbursement afterwards.

"This could also entice residents to travel when EMO suggests they shelter in place and refrain from using highways."

Hatt recommended moving comfort centres to community facilities other than fire halls. 

He suggested giving four, yet-to-be-determined locations $2,500 each to help pay for a generator and then lay out clear rules about when it opens and how much it spends.

"No funding will be provided by the municipality thereafter for power, refreshments, fuel, food, etc.," he wrote in his report.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the motion was deferred. Council directed Hatt, CAO Chris McNeill and the fire departments to get together on Jan. 21 and reach an agreement. It's expected the recommendations will then be put to council for a vote.

Dorian fire hall dinners

Wolfe said while his department's 45 volunteer firefighters dealt with flooded basements and other emergency calls because of Dorian, the ladies auxiliary went to work preparing turkey dinners at the fire hall.

"We had over 150 people come in some nights for supper at the fire station," Wolfe said.

For 7½ days, the North Queens Fire Department doubled as a comfort centre providing meals, coffee, tea, showers and charging stations. 

"We have a brand new fire hall in Caledonia with a big generator and we're more than capable of housing people within the community during power outages," Wolfe said.

$5K bill

The fire department then sent the municipality a bill. Wolfe said he doesn't remember the exact tally, but said it was about $5,000 and covered diesel, food and other supplies.

But the municipality refused to pay it — at least not all of it. Wolfe said council reimbursed the fire hall for about half of the bill.

The council agenda said federal guidelines urge homeowners to stay inside for the first 72 hours of any storm, regardless of the season.

"You can look at it that way, but in all honesty, it'd be better for them to go out to a safe place than be home in the cold and with no running water and things like that," Wolfe said.