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Safety concerns remain as Hantsport firefighters lobby West Hants council for new station

Hantsport deputy fire chief Paul Maynard discusses the tight quarters in the fire bay. The firefighters recently relocated their bunker gear, which was previously located in the main bay behind the fire trucks, to make it safer for firefighters responding to calls.
Hantsport deputy fire chief Paul Maynard discusses the tight quarters in the fire bay. The firefighters recently relocated their bunker gear, which was previously located in the main bay behind the fire trucks, to make it safer for firefighters responding to calls. - Carole Morris-Underhill

HANTSPORT, N.S. — With a report detailing multiple safety concerns at the Hantsport Fire Department, firefighters are hoping West Hants council will finally approve the construction of a new fire station.

A presentation on the state of the existing fire department was brought forward to council earlier this year. An information report outlining the costs associated with creating a combined new fire station and public works department in Hantsport was received Sept. 25.

While that report generated nearly 30 minutes of discussion, a decision wasn’t made on building a new station.

The lack of movement on the project is leading to frustrated volunteers, says one of the station’s long-serving volunteers.

“What we want council to do is to take it serious,” said Hantsport’s deputy fire chief Paul Maynard.

“We’re patient but I’m finding our members are getting a little impatient because they’ve seen some other things move forward very quickly and I think that’s part of the problem,” Maynard said.

Since the proposal to build a new Hantsport Fire Department was brought forward in the spring, West Hants council has approved a new arena and the addition of a soccer dome — a recreational project that carries a price tag of about $13 million.

“I realize that there are other priorities in the municipality and this isn’t a cheap venture — building a fire station — but we did go in early in the year, before budget time, presented, (and) had an independent review of the station by an architect who basically said that there are a number of very serious safety hazards that have to be addressed,” said Maynard.

“We have been trying to work to address a few of them to make it safer but it’s not going to fix the fact that we need a new building,” he continued.

“I think the frustration for me and the chief, both, is that when the members see that a new arena has gotten approved since then and a soccer dome got added on — it’s really a frustration for us.”

Dave Miller, Hantsport Fire Department's caretaker and driver, gets his gear on. Due to the limited space at the Hantsport Fire Department, and various safety concerns, firefighters are lobbying council to see a new one built.
Dave Miller, Hantsport Fire Department's caretaker and driver, gets his gear on. Due to the limited space at the Hantsport Fire Department, and various safety concerns, firefighters are lobbying council to see a new one built.


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Safety concerns abound

A 2014 OPUS Report cited areas that required upgrades or immediate improvement. A 2018 report, commissioned by architect Vincent den Hartog, also outlined the multiple safety concerns.

Maynard said they’ve worked on making the existing fire station as safe as possible. For example, they moved the bunker gear inside the hall so that firefighters wouldn’t be getting dressed next to the trucks.

“One of the biggest concerns was the bunker gear. When the firefighters came in to get dressed… to get on the trucks, they were literally inches from the bumpers,” said Maynard.

“Some of our trucks are standard; they can float backwards and pin a firefighter getting dressed. So, we moved our bunker gear into what was formerly the Hantsport fire hall. The catch 22 is we don’t have any space anymore to hold any type of fundraising functions. It no longer can be an area that the community can use as space for meetings or weddings or funerals... We can’t do it anymore. It’s a loss for the community.”

Vehicles have been damaged when responding to calls due to the limited amount of space at the Hantsport Fire Department.
Vehicles have been damaged when responding to calls due to the limited amount of space at the Hantsport Fire Department.

Maynard said there are concerns about chemicals off-gassing from the uniforms — a problem that could be more easily addressed at a new station.

“I just came from a national conference in Alberta and one of the biggest challenges that firefighters are facing today is we’re finding cancer rates are soaring amongst firefighters and a lot of it is the lack of a de-con (decontamination) process,” said Maynard.

In a new station, Maynard said there would be a separate, well-ventilated room to store gear, and there could be washers and dryers available, with the possibility of an industrial scrub off station. Maynard said members could shower before after a fire call and wouldn’t bring those cancer-causing contaminants home with them.

“We’re asking our volunteers to put in a lot of time and commitment and now we’re telling them not only to risk their lives going to fires but… your cancer rates are going to increase by X number percentage just because you’re a volunteer firefighter,” said Maynard. “We’ve got to do what we have to do to mitigate some of those for our future generations coming up through the fire service.”

In order to boost morale, they also created a gym area, which was paid for out of fundraising initiatives.

But Maynard said there are still several issues that plague the station that can’t be rectified. The radio room isn’t very accessible, the fire radio operator cannot see any of the vehicles or station bay doors, and there are no board rooms or meeting areas.

“The station was never built to accommodate the trucks of today. There’s not enough space between the vehicles,” said Maynard, noting the vehicles sometimes get damaged due to the close quarters. It also makes visibility challenging when firefighters are rushing to respond to a call.

Another issue is how close the station is located to the road.

“Most new fire stations, you have a tarmac where you can go out and work on the vehicles, you can pull them out, you can actually manipulate them without having to drive back out onto the road,” said Maynard.

In addition, there’s not enough parking at the site to accommodate the number of members they have.

The fire station in Hantsport was not built to accommodate the size of most fire vehicles that are now on the market. - Carole Morris-Underhill
The fire station in Hantsport was not built to accommodate the size of most fire vehicles that are now on the market. - Carole Morris-Underhill

Public works department also in need of upgrades

The existing public works compound in Hantsport was constructed around 1970. It consists of four buildings and two sea containers. While the 2014 Opus Report indicated most of the buildings were in fair condition, there were issues that needed to be addressed.

“The garage is in rough shape. It barely fits (equipment), with about a foot of space on either side our main plow for the community of Hantsport,” said Brad Carrigan, the director of public works for West Hants.

“The building has been run into a couple time due to a lack of space so there is a safety issue.”

The brick chimney, located in the garage, is separating from the building and has been secured to the structure using a chain and bolts.

In addition, there are heating, electrical and lighting issues listed for several of the buildings.

Carrigan noted the department has held off on doing any upgrades in 2018 while the latest report was being compiled.

“Instead of spending money on something that may need either to be replaced or expanded or renovated, we’ve held off on all renovations to the compound other than trying to clean up the existing yard and organize the shop,” said Carrigan.

Hantsport resident and Coun. Robbie Zwicker said he was in favour of moving forward with the combined project as soon as possible.

“I think we're definitely due to have something in Hantsport,” said Zwicker, who served as the mayor prior to the town dissolving its charter and joining West Hants in 2015.

“I think we all should remember, around this table especially, if it wasn’t for the Hantsport Fire Department we would likely still be under the heel of the Windsor Fire Department,” he said. “They gave us a tremendous boost when we consolidated (fire services).”

In 2015, West Hants council severed ties with the Windsor Fire Department to create its own firefighting force, relying on Brooklyn and Hantsport volunteer fire departments to carry the load previously covered by Windsor. Since that decision, several million dollars has been spent, with about $1.5 million being put towards a substation in Three Mile Plains.

The cost for constructing a new combined building in Hantsport is estimated to be $3,405,600. The report notes that the existing public works compound would be a suitable location for the combined project.

West Hants’ chief administrative officer Martin Laycock told councillors at the most recent committee of the whole meeting that about 25 per cent of the cost for the fire station portion would come from Kings County, due to the sharing of fire services. Additional financial aid could be sought from Glooscap First Nation, which also benefits from the Hantsport Fire Department’s service.

During the meeting, some councillors asked questions, some expressed a desire to wait until after a fire services co-ordinator is appointed, and some wanted to know what impact the municipality’s pending consolidation with the Town of Windsor would have on the project.

“Right now, as we approach consolidation, I wonder about the Town of Windsor, I guess, and how we can make sure we synergize everything imaginable,” said Coun. Tanya Leopold.

No motions were recommended in regard to the construction of a new public works/fire station building. There was discussion that council would revisit the issue closer to the next budget.

Maynard said he just wants to hear the project will be moving forward.

“We have to make a spot that’s comfortable, that’s usable and that will last us for 30-40 years into the future,” said Maynard. “That ties back into why we want to start the planning process now so that...  we’re ready to break ground next year when the budget is approved.”

Hantsport deputy fire chief Paul Maynard and driver Dave Miller pose by the new dressing area. The bunker gear was moved to the inside of the station in response to the safety concerns associated with keeping it in the bay with the trucks. - Carole Morris-Underhill
Hantsport deputy fire chief Paul Maynard and driver Dave Miller pose by the new dressing area. The bunker gear was moved to the inside of the station in response to the safety concerns associated with keeping it in the bay with the trucks. - Carole Morris-Underhill

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