Glenmore firehall expansion squeezed from budget

Council ties firehall to completion of John Hindle Drive. Fire chief says area needs faster response times now from pro firefighters.

Kelowna city council has postponed expanding the firehall in Glenmore for another year.

Adding the 12 full-time firefighters to staff is also off, as well as buying a new fire truck for the hall.

By doing so, council cut an estimated $640,000 from the city’s 2017 budget plus the $962,000 cost of the new truck, which would have come from a fire department equipment reserve.

In a tied vote broken by Mayor Colin Basran early in Thursday’s annual city budget deliberations, council decided to put off the Glenmore firehall plan for a year,pending the completion of the oft-delayed John Hindle Drive in early 2018.

That road will connect Glenmore to the UBC Okanagan campus and a number of councillors argued that the need for the expanded firehall was directly tied to the new road.

But fire chief Jeff Carlisle said his department’s analysis show the need for expanding the hall now current response times from the hall are slower from the on-call volunteer firefighters.

He said the response times now are pegged at nine minutes and 31 seconds for calls to the surrounding urban area and 14 minutes to the rural area farther away.Both are longer than the industry standard, he said following council’s decision to put off his request this year. With a full-time fire station, those times would be reduced to seven minutes and 40 seconds for urban responses and 11 minutes and 40 seconds for rural responses, he said.

“Those minutes matter,” said Carlisle.

While he conceded the completion of John Hindle Drive is a component in the need for the firehall expansion, it is not the only one.

Still, he respects that it’s council’s job to decide what needs to be done in the city and when.

Councillors in favour of the postponing Luke Stack, Maxine DeHart, Gail Given, Ryan Donn and Mayor Colin Basran said they feel the city is well served by the fire department. They said the expanded fire hall, which would eventually house20 full-time professional firefighters, will happen sooner than the anticipated timeframe of 2024 in the fire department’s strategic plan.

“I think the conversion of the Glenmore Firehall is tied to the extension of John Hindle Drive,” said Stack, noting that project is also delayed to 2018. This(firehall) project should be delayed too.”

Asked directly about the immediacy of the need for a firehall manned by full-time firefighters in Glenmore by Coun. Mohini Singh, Carlisle said: “We need that station operating now to respond to that geographic area.”

Coun. Charlie Hodge agreed, saying he did not see the project as a “want,” but rather as a “need.”

“I don’t see it as empire building, I see it as a question of safety,” said Hodge. “I really think we owe this to our residents.”

Hodge and Singh were joined in supporting the project going ahead in 2017 by Coun. Brad Sieben and Tracy Gray.

The four other councillors and the mayor, however, were not convinced. They felt holding off for a year will allow more time to discern if what has been proposed is actually needed.

“You will get it but I’m not sure this is the right time,” said Coun. Maxine DeHart,who called this year’s budget a “pressure budget,” one she had already lost sleepover.