New Wardsville station in SWM fire plan

A fire master plan has an eye on figuring out a couple holes in Southwest Middlesex fire coverage.

The 179-page document presented to council Oct. 12 by consultant Gary Mosburg of Emergency Management Group (EMG) had 40 short and medium-term recommendations to better protect people and firefighters over the next decade.

The biggest item is a new Wardsville fire station in the next one to six years.

“The Wardsville fire station is at its end of life. It is absolutely in dire need of a replacement,” said Mosburg.

EMG found that the Wardsville station was in poor condition, there was not enough capacity for its current purpose, vehicle bays were too small for cleaning, there is no emergency decontamination shower, and limited parking for firefighters.

It is estimated to cost $2-4 million depending on design and land acquisition costs.

Where that land would be is key. EMG recommends putting it on the northwest end of town around Hagerty Road north of Talbot Street to better cover the northwest corner of the municipality.

This would mean less of a reliance on help from Alvinston’s firehall. Council voted in May to include looking at a new solution for the northwest after getting a bill from Brooke-Alvinston that did not discount the grant money received, leaving Southwest Middlesex paying for a larger portion.

Coun. Mark McGill asked about the planned closing of Melbourne by Strathroy-Caradoc in the next few years. That station now covers the east side of Southwest Middlesex.

Mosburg said the current agreement runs to Dec. 31, 2023 with a three-year renewal option. A solution has yet to be found to keep response times short if the Melbourne station moves closer to Mt. Brydges.

McGill also asked about approaching Newbury and sharing a station.

“It seems to me having two firehalls maybe five minutes apart doesn’t really make much sense and one firehall would be better,” said McGill.

“That was a fire chief that did not respond to my request for having a conversation about that,” said Mosburg.

Fire Chief Colin Shewell said having the firehall in Newbury adds driving time to Wardsville.

Other big recommendations included more investment in professional fire department staff. The report recommended moving the fire chief position to full-time at a cost of $40,000, hiring a part-time deputy fire chief who would transition to full-time in seven to 10 years ($30-40,000), and a part-time fire prevention officer hired in one to three years who could be full-time if costs were split with neighbouring municipalities ($20-40,000), and a part-time public education officer ($20-40,000).

Deputy Mayor Marigay Wilkins saw all the dollar signs adding up.

“I’m not going to say in the next few years, but I think what we’ll see down the road because of costs associated with moving forward like this, we’ll see something like the Middlesex County take over fire services. I think that’s the only way we smaller, rural municipalities will be able to afford to move forward,” said Wilkins.

Chief Shewell said he requested all senior staff, council, firefighters , the Ontario Fire Marshal and bordering fire departments including Chatham Kent, Chippewa of the Thames, and Strathroy-Caradoc be interviewed for this project.

“As well as anyone that had a bit of a stakeholder in our fire department,” said Shewell.

EMG was awarded the contract to draw up the plan for $43,000.

Some other recommendations and costs include a new pumper truck ($400,000-600,000), diesel exhaust extraction system and negative pressure bunker gear room ($50-100,000 and $50-70,000), shared NG-911 services with mandated timeline of March 30, 2024 ($250-500,000), and a new training facility ($200-700,000).

In 2019, the Glencoe station got 90 total calls for fires, fire alarms, medical assistance, etc. A big drop in medical calls to things like vehicle accidents saw it get 36 total calls in 2020.

Wardsville station numbers were 25 in 2019 and 21 in 2020. Fires made up 27 percent of calls.

A motion to consider increased firefighter compensation for 2023 was passed unanimously with Coun. Amy Choi not voting due to the conflict of her husband being a volunteer firefighter. After reviewing 11 area fire departments, the review by Chief Shewell said a 9.7 percent raise costing $18,683 would be needed to be in the middle of the pack compensation-wise.

Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner