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Delay in installation for fire hall generators

Storm causes power outage at one Oshawa fire hall without backup

Due to issues with a contractor, a number of Oshawa fire halls remain without back-up generators, including the city’s newest addition in Fire Hall 6 (above). (Oshawa Express file photo).

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The installation of back-up power generators for Oshawa fire halls has been delayed following issues between the City of Oshawa and the hired contractor.

According to Mark Robinson, the city’s director of facilities management, the snag has held the installation of the back-up power systems until July

“We just had to deal with a contractor issue, (we) dealt with it and now we’re moving on and plan to have everything up and running by July,” he says, noting that while the contractor has changed, the budget for the installation remains the same. “Unfortunately contractor 1 couldn’t perform so we brought in a second contractor who is completing the work all within our approved budget.”

The delay has left Councillor Amy McQuaid-England concerned.

“I hope staff are reviewing what went wrong with this contract and will be making changes in the future,” she says. “We can not afford this type of delay from contractors, especially when it relates to our firefighters who should be focused on safety and not whether or not they have power at their stations in extreme weather situations.”

The delay is the most recent development on the path to install back-up power in Oshawa’s fire halls.

In the spring of 2016, it was reported in The Oshawa Express that the generator at Fire Hall 6, then under construction, had been slashed from the project after all the bids on the project came in over the approved $3.5 million budget.

A city report at the time explained that while the infrastructure was constructed to house the generator at Fire Hall 6, the generator itself was left out.

The issue spurred debate inside the council chambers and it was from those discussions that council agreed to have staff look into the possibilities of having back-up power systems installed in all of the city’s fire halls.

As it stands, only Fire Hall 1 (the home of the fire services dispatch and radio systems) and Fire Hall 5 have permanent back-up power systems installed. In an effort to alleviate any potential issues, approval was given in 2016 for a portable generator to be shared between halls 2, 3 and 4 in the case of an emergency. That project was delayed.

Then, following approval from council in the spring of 2017, $385,000 was approved to install the remaining generators.

Fire halls 2 and 4 will see the installation of 100kW generators capable of powering the entire facility in emergency situations. It is set to cost $190,000 for the pair to be purchased and installed with all of the required infrastructure. A similar generator is required for Fire Hall 3 as well, with a $95,000 price tag.

Previously, $250,000 was set aside in the 2016 capital budget for the generators. However, an additional $35,000 will be needed from the fire equipment reserve to make up the difference.

The delay in installation has also caught the attention of the Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association (OPFFA).

“The Association is concerned that some fire stations still do not have generators to provide backup power during power failure,” says Peter Dyson, the OPFFA president. “During the recent wind storm there was no power at Station 2 for a sizeable amount of time.”

The power failure at Station 2 was confirmed by Ron Diskey, the city’s commissioner of community services.

“I know for certain that Fire Hall 2 lost power for a period of time, but no major issues were experienced,” he says.

This also isn’t the first time that an Oshawa fire hall has lost power without a proper back-up system installed.

According to a previous city report, between 2011 and 2016, Fire Hall 2 experienced 35 power outages, while Fire Hall 3 experienced 24 and Fire Hall 4 had 22.

And while no major incidents have been reported, the issues have impacted Oshawa Fire Services in times of emergency.

In June 2016, a fire broke out in the south end of Oshawa only a short distance from Fire Hall 2. However, when the call went out from the dispatcher, it wasn’t received by the nearby firefighters because the power was out at the time. Another truck was sent instead, arriving more than seven minutes later. According to information received by The Express at that time, nobody was injured as a result of this incident.

“We are eagerly awaiting the generators to be installed,” Dyson says. “The Association is disappointed with the length of time it has taken so far without a perceived sense of urgency as there could potentially be a significant impact on response times.”

According to Robinson, the generators are expected to be installed and operational by the end of July.

“If we lost anything we lost like three weeks out of the big master schedule. I think it was scheduled to be up and running by June, it’s now July. So we’re very fortunate that way, we didn’t have to wait too long,” he says. “Our objective was to stay with budget and we were able to do that, and so, losing three weeks wasn’t really a big issue for us.”