City fire officials praise plan for new Lennoxville station

Photo: Gordon Lambie
By: 
Gordon Lambie
Staff Writer

Lennoxville will be getting a new fire station, a full complement of full-time firefighters, and the possibility of an expanded community centre between now and 2020 as a result of the City of Sherbrooke’s most recent fire-risk assessment plan. The broad strokes of the plan as it applies to the borough were presented to the roughly 15 residents of Lennoxville who turned out to an information session held in the existing fire hall on Wednesday night, along with about as many firefighters and municipal officials who were also in attendance.

Stephane Simoneau, Interim Director of the Sherbrooke Fire Prevention service (SPCIS) took roughly half an hour to go over the details of the plan agreed upon by the Sherbrooke City Council, with Borough President David Price on hand to offer translation one way or the other as needed by either the crowd or the speaker. According to Simoneau the new station, which is to be built by 2018, will be situated in part of what is currently a wooded area between Oxford Crescent and Archie-Mitchell streets. It will be staffed by 4 Lieutenants and 12 firefighters by 2019.

“When we plan to place a station, we don’t just want to think about the next ten years, we want to think about what’s going to happen over the next 30,” the Fire Chief said, pointing out that the borough of Lennoxville contains one of the city’s largest development zones and stating that the new station will help to make sure that current and future development is as well protected as possible.

The provincial standard in firefighting response time is to be able to have ten firefighters on the scene of a call within 10 minutes of that call being made. At the moment, this is the case in 93.5 per cent of the City of Sherbrooke and 79.3 per cent of the Borough of Lennoxville. In Sherbrooke, however, that “10 in 10” standard has been deemed unacceptable as compared to response times in similar sized cities across the country, particularly with regard to non-fire calls. According to Simoneau, the goal within the city’s urban zone is to have four firefighters on the scene in under five minutes.

“Four in five is a much more effective norm, and much more representative of the needs we see in Sherbrooke,” Simoneau said. “For first responders, 10 in 10 is not fast enough.”

At the moment, “four in five” response time is possible in 68 per cent of the city, but only 1.5 per cent of Lennoxville. With the construction of the new fire station in the borough, it is expected that those figures will jump to 76.9 per cent for the city as a whole, and 95.4 per cent for the borough. Simoneau shared that as of the opening of the latest section of highway 410, the SPCIS can guarantee ten firefighters anywhere in the city limits within fifteen minutes, and added that fully half of the calls that the service receives are to serve as first-responders.

Responding to concerns raised from the community that Lennoxville’s volunteer firefighters have been and continue to be a part of the social fabric of the borough, Simoneau clearly and repeatedly spoke with great pride and admiration for the volunteer brigade. He strongly emphasized that the service the community has received over the years has been exemplary and exceptional on a provincial scale when it comes to volunteer departments. That having been said, the fire chief explained that no volunteer service is ever going to be able to respond to a call with the same kind of efficiency as a full staff that are stationed in the fire hall and ready to jump at a moment’s notice.

“Even if we have a huge heart, to leave one’s home in the winter, clear off the car, get to the fire station without flashing lights and then leave for the fire creates an automatic delay,” Simoneau said. “It’s not their fault, they are very competent and available, but having people in the station makes all the difference.”

In terms of bringing Lennoxville fire safety up to the right level, the Fire Chief continued by saying that having full-time staff is only half the battle because the existing fire station does not meet operational norms and has some serious issues. Some of these issues, things like improper ventilation and insufficient living space for a permanent firefighting crew, would potentially be fixable by sacrificing parts of the upstairs community centre Simoneau said, but others, like the fire station’s location next to train lines and placement in a flood zone, are just facts that are not going away.

“Just being next to the train tracks makes it like there is no fire station here at all as far as insurance companies are concerned,” the Fire Chief said. “It’s an exaggeration on their part, in my opinion, but when it comes to insurance, what counts is buildings that meet the norms.”

As a result of this situation, the Fire Chief said that the city decided to use the funds it would have taken to renovate the existing hall to build a whole new facility that would satisfy all of the city’s needs. At this point in the process the cost breakdown sees the city paying $1,650,000 in staffing and human resources costs, $2,549,000 for the new building, and $1,355,000 for a new pump and ladder truck for a total of $5,554,000 altogether. This, according to Simoneau, is $6,164,000 less than the work was expected to cost in previous versions of the plan.

During the information session’s question period, concerns were raised about coverage in Huntingville both because of its placement outside of Sherbrooke’s urban zone and because of the lack of hydrants in the community. While Huntingville will be part of the city that will still not fall inside of the “four in five” perimeter, Simoneau said that service improvements would exist nonetheless.

“It might end up being four in six or seven,” the Fire Chief said adding that intermunicipal agreements with communities like Waterville will help to ensure that homes in the Huntingville sector get the coverage they need.

Price, who rarely had to chime in as a translator, said afterwards that he was not surprised by the questions that came up in the meeting and expressed that he has few to no concerns about the changes that are coming down the line. Though the Borough President speculated that the presence of the fire station might be disruptive to the neighbours of the new structure up near the oxford crescent, he further suggested that, given the longstanding presence of heavy truck traffic on the road, it was unlikely that the addition would become a cause of major concern.

“They’ve been so used to trucks and all that noise for so many years, I don’t think they were even considering that possibility,” Price said. “Granted we’re going to go for three years before (the fire station) gets built, so there’s going to be quiet time there for the next little while.”

Responding to a question about what will happen to the existing fire station once the new one is up and running, both Price and Simoneau established that there is no intent to sell the structure.

“It’s early to say, but my intention is that this will then become all of a community centre,” The borough President said, pointing out that the community has a clear need for more space. “We’ll take input from the citizens of Lennoxville on how to do it. We realize it would have to be a small investment, but we believe it’s possible to do.”

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