PUSLINCH – Council postpones further consideration of a second fire station as fire services struggle with recruiting volunteer firefighters.
At Wednesday’s special council meeting, fire chief Brad Bigrigg presented a report to council that addressed specific questions arising out of Resolution 2021-198.
The resolution asked township staff to provide information regarding costing associated with having a full-time and composite full-time fire department; the potential to relocate a centralized fire station; a comparison of the capital costs and the ongoing operational costs of a potential satellite station.
He also went over the second fire station council is considering and the recruitment process of volunteer firefighters.
“The CAO and I have had discussions on how the fire department can better serve the community, but I don’t think a second fire station will solve the problem,” said Brigrigg.
“Bringing in a second fire station will only cost the township a lot of money when our main concern is the recruitment to have a healthy number of volunteers and other agreements with other township’s fire services.”
Currently, there are 40 volunteer firefighters at the fire station in Puslinch.
Brigrigg noted that the many residents drive more than 15 minutes to work, and their place of work is more than 15 kilometres from their community; this is true for the volunteer firefighters.
“The combined family income, and travel time and distance to work, make it unlikely that many residents will volunteer as a firefighter or, if they are a volunteer firefighter, they are unable to return to the community from their place of work for a fire emergency incident. This makes recruitment difficult,” he said.
The Master Fire Plan envisions a second fire station located at approximately Wellington Road 32 at Ellis Road, or at Sideroad 10 between Concession 1 and Concession 2, or at Sideroad 10 South at Concession 2.
The Master Fire Plan informed council that the location at Concession 2 and Side Road 10 South optimises the fire coverage in the township itself.
Council agreed with Brigrigg’s report as they recognized the cost of the whole operation of a second fire station.
“These are all huge dollar amounts for a second station, and as the fire chief noted, the end result will still be the same as it is now: if the second station was built, the arrival time on scene will still be the same amount as it is without it because of the lack of volunteer firefighters,” said Coun. Jessica Goyda.
“I don’t see the need to spend millions of dollars for a second station or a new satellite station.”
Coun. John Sepulis asked the fire chief what he meant when he said “a demonstrated need for a second fire station” during his recommendation on waiting to discuss the possibility of a second station.
“When there’s a higher volume of calls or if Cambridge were to shut their fire station down then that would demonstrate a need for a second station,” answered Brigrigg.
Brigrigg noted that the only way the recruitment issue can be fixed is if the fire department looks for local residents who do not have a full-time job as many of the current volunteers can only work a small number of hours due to their other job.
Mayor James Seeley, a Guelph firefighter who previously served 14 years as a volunteer firefighter in Puslinch, noted how important volunteer firefighting is to the community.
“I’m old school when it comes to this but I think that we should recruit as much as we can. I understand that recruiting volunteers who live far is a struggle but we need it in the meantime. We rely on these people to serve our community,” said Seeley.
Angelica Babiera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com